How to Become a Penologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Penology, a subtype of sociology, is the study of the management of prisons and jails and of rehabilitating convicts.

Penologists are sociologists who spend most of their time working inside prisons with prisoners.

Penologists Jobs

In addition, penologists will aid prison security by helping to prevent disturbances such as escapes, assaults, and other antisocial behavior that can result in disruptions.

Local, state, and federal prisons all employ penologists.

A penologist can find a job in both low-security and maximum-security environments.

Responsibilities and Duties of a Penologist

The main responsibility of a penologist is to help rehabilitate individuals who have been incarcerated so they can be integrated back into society.

In addition, a penologist will develop and offer advice on self-help programs for prisoners so that the prisoners can work through their criminal habits.

Some of these programs may include substance abuse programs and anger management programs.

In addition, penologists may develop management strategies for prisons along with treatment programs for the inmates that will govern how each prisoner is treated while they are incarcerated.

They will also inspect the prison facilities on a regular basis and conduct prisoner searches for contraband.

There are some penologists who hold positions where they are required to make recommendations that will be used to form the policies of the prison.

For example, they may develop and implement an activity that is intended to prevent the prison environment from becoming disorderly, such as testing for drugs.

This position requires an individual to work with the architects of the prison to develop floor plans and schematics that are suited to meet the needs of the prison management as well as the prisoners.

Penologists are expected to work closely with other criminal justice professionals such as criminologists, parole officers, probation officers, and prison guards.

Required Skills

Penologists need to be extremely familiar with the corrections system.

In addition, they must have strong verbal, interpersonal communication, and verbal skills.

They also must have great leadership qualities.

This position requires an individual to work directly with individuals that are incarcerated so they should be extremely alert and physically fit as well.

How to Become a Penologist

1. Earn a Bachelors Degree

Step one, when you are considering a career in Penology, is to complete a four-year-long Bachelor’s degree.

You will want to complete a relevant program, such as Criminal Justice, Psychology, Justice Administration, or Forensic Science.

Any of these programs will help you move toward your growing career, and you will learn about laws, the judicial system, how to understand human behavior, and how to conduct yourself in a respectful manner.

It is possible to find online education as well as in-person education at universities all around the United States.

While at school, focus on classes that will help you when working with incarcerated people as well as administration, such as:

  • History of U.S. Prisons
  • Punishment Goals and Techniques
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Human Behavior

It may help to tour a prison or speak to law enforcement to get an idea of what types of responsibilities you will have once you become a Penologist.

2. Complete an Internship

Either during your schooling or right after, it will be important to get some hands-on experience in the prison system.

This can be done through an internship or a work-study program that allows you to walk the halls of a prison to see what life is like as a Penologist.

Find an internship through a police department, correctional facility, or social work office.

An internship can last anywhere from six months to a year, depending on how much education you want on the topic.

Make sure that the internship provides knowledge of the criminal justice system as well as how individuals in prison will become incorporated into society once they are released.

There are many benefits to working an internship, including the possibility of employment once you finish.

3. Network

While working on your internship, it will be important to network with other Penologists or people in the judicial system.

This can be done in several ways, first, you can speak to those working in the correctional facility as well as those who are already Penologists.

Plus, you can volunteer to help with programs that are becoming implemented, or research topics that are interesting to you that can help out incarcerated people.

Learning about ways to make the prison system better and sharing those with people in charge will get you further in your career once you gain employment.

Other ways to network include attending conferences, seminars, and workshops that involve the criminal justice system.

4. Become Employed

After you’ve graduated and completed an internship, it is time to look for full-time career opportunities.

With your experience in the field, you may have already encountered people who can offer you a job.

Those who haven’t had that opportunity may look online or talk to local law enforcement agencies to help find employment openings.

Some options to consider when looking for employment include:

  • Sheriff’s offices
  • State penitentiaries
  • Local jails
  • Juvenile detention centers
  • Government agencies

It is likely that you will need to undergo a background check when applying for these positions, so ensure that you have a clean record.

You will also need a Bachelor’s degree and some work experience in most cases, which you should have done before applying for the position desired.

5. Become Certified

It is not a requirement to become certified in order to work as a Penologist, but many employers do enjoy seeing certification next to your name.

After you have gained several years of experience in the field, you may be ready to branch out and continue learning about the field of penology.

There are several options when considering certification, such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Forensic Science
  • Criminal Law
  • Physical Security
  • Certified Jail Supervisor

Each certification has its own rules and regulations, so speak to local law enforcement as well as nearby colleges or universities to help you find which one is right for you.

Education Requirements

In order to become a penologist an individual should have a bachelor’s degree in an area such as justice administration, criminal justice, or psychology.

During a penologist training program, a person can expect to take courses in criminal psychology.

These courses will cover the techniques and punishment goals that are used in the American prison system including the reasons that individuals are incarcerated and the average amount of time a criminal spends in prison as well as the prison lifestyle.

In addition, a person who is interested in becoming a penologist will need to learn how to work within the budget of the prison and also ways to address the issues of overcrowding.

Those who are interested in this profession should first obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, or justice administration.

While studying for the degree it is recommended that you contact the authorities of a prison or area where you wish to work and obtain an internship to gain the experience needed for this position.

Licensing & Certification

It is likely that you will not be required to complete specific certifications or licensing to work as a Penologist in most areas.

However, when you have several years of experience and time working in the criminal justice system, you may want to expand your knowledge.

This can be done in a variety of ways, including earning certification in criminal justice, forensic psychology, or even as a prison guard.

The more experience and knowledge you have, the better you will be able to complete your job duties.

Certification can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, depending on the type of certification you are looking into.

When considering certification, think about the area where you work and what would best serve not only you but the people that you work for including the incarcerated.

It is likely that certification will take some type out of your schedule, so keep in mind the tasks needed to fulfill your work duties.

You may be looking for ways to improve your career with promotions and raises, and certification is just the thing that will allow you to surpass your current position.

After speaking with professionals, consider your options and where you can become certified.

You may be able to do so at a local community college or adult education center, or you may be able to find something online.

It is wise to make sure that the certification is accredited so that you will have the most honest and up-to-date information available.

Most certifications will require that you complete classes and pass exams in order to finish.

You may also need to gain field experience, especially if you are looking to become certified in forensic science.

This can be a fun and interesting way to expand your mind and your career experience.

Salary & Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Sociologists Handbook 2021), Penologists (a subtype of Sociologists) earn an average annual salary of $92,910 per year.

Projected job growth is 5% over the next 10 years.

These figures are based on national data, not school-specific information.

Salaries can vary depending on experience, location, client, and type of work.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Jersey50$85,790$41.25$117,100$54,530
New York**$102,450$49.25$170,520$64,350
North Carolina330$106,990$51.44$167,480$60,810

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is Massachusetts, where the average salary is $131,700.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • Massachusetts - $131,700
  • Illinois - $115,460
  • California - $107,960
  • North Carolina - $106,990
  • New York - $102,450
  • Maryland - $97,630
  • Washington - $86,160
  • New Jersey - $85,790
  • Ohio - $77,250
  • Minnesota - $74,800
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Sociologists, OCC Code 19-3041, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Should You Become a Penologist?

Overall Satisfaction

Working as a Penologist can be a highly stressful career, so if you are able to maintain a clear and level head, then you will do well.

There may be opportunities to grow and become promoted in this career field, which can help with the monotony of the everyday tasks necessary to complete your work.

It is also likely that you will work long hours and have many responsibilities, but the high salary and benefits can outweigh the negative aspects of this career.

All in all, working as a Penologist can be hard but rewarding when you are helping others.

Average Salary

A Penologist will make quite a bit of money throughout their career with time and motivation.

It is expected that a Penologist will start out at the lower end of the scale, at around $35,000 a year.

The average Penologist typically has a salary closer to $79,121 per year.

Those with the most experience and highest certification can typically bring home over $328,000 per year, depending on where you live and

which type of facility you work.

Job Growth Outlook

Over the next ten years, you will see quite a bit of a hike in the need for Penologists.

This is due to several reasons, overcrowding in prisons, retirement, and those leaving the workforce.

Overcrowding in prisons creates new opportunities due to opening more facilities.

Those who are of retirement age will likely end their career, making room for people who are just beginning their work experience.

Expect to see more jobs opening each year when you consider working as a Penologist.

Education Duration

In order to become a Penologist, you will be required to have at least a Bachelor’s degree.

The average Bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, which can be done in person or online in most schools across the country.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, Psychology, or Justice Administration, you will typically find internship opportunities before

you can begin your career.

When you are ready to consider a career as a Penologist, you should expect to study and shadow a senior Penologist for up to five years.

Personal Skills Needed

Working as a Penologist can be a difficult occupation due to the clientele and responsibility within the field.

In order to have success as a Penologist, you should consider possessing the following skills:

  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Observation
  • Risk assessment
  • Understanding of the criminal justice system
  • Physically fit
  • Understanding of the correctional facility

In this career, you will see the dark side of the criminal justice system, so you will need to have a strong mind and stomach to help those in need.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Penologist?

The minimum length that you will need to go to school to become a Penologist is four years.

This is because you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree to go into this line of work.

It is important to know about the criminal justice system in order to work as a Penologist.

It may take about a year longer if you consider completing certification and an internship.

How much money does a Penologist make a year?

On average, a Penologist will have a yearly salary of $79,121 in the United States.

This amount can vary depending on where you live and the size of the correctional facility that you work.

Those who are just starting out and have minimal experience will likely be paid closer to $35,000 to begin.

Once you gain experience and understanding of what it takes to work as a Penologist, you can make over $320,000 per year in some areas.

What kind of education do you need to be a Penologist?

It is hard work to become a Penologist, and that is why you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to work in this profession.

Penologists have a high understanding of the criminal justice system as well as laws in today’s world.

With a degree in Criminal Justice, Justice Administration, or Psychology, you can gain the knowledge needed to fulfill your dream of working in this field.

Are Penologists in high demand?

Yes, you will find that Penologists are in high demand all over the country.

The opening of new correctional facilities will be a big reason why there are so many job openings.

Plus, those who have made it to the age of retirement will make room for new Penologists to start their career.

If you are looking to begin a lifelong career as a Penologist, now is the time to consider.

What skills do you need to have to be a Penologist?

To work as a Penologist, you will want to have good people skills and understand the inner workings of the criminal justice system.

You will also want to be physically fit and have a good head on your shoulders.

It may be wise to brush up on computer and writing skills as well.

Those who are good problem solvers and have a knack for observation will do well in this career.

Michael Morales

About Michael Morales

Michael Morales is the Webmaster and Editor in Chief for With a strong background in Web Publishing and Internet Marketing, he currently works as an independent consultant. A former paramedic and ems educator, he enjoys punishing himself doing triathlons and endurance sports. Michael currently lives in sunny Northern California, home of the highest tax rates in the world.

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