A Psychology Major as Preparation for a Corrections Treatment Specialists Path

What do you think of when you hear the phrase criminal justice? Is it apprehending someone, bringing them to justice? Criminal justice also involves treatment: providing offenders with the resources to resume life within the community. Low-risk offenders (and accused) are often managed within the community by parole officers, probation officers, or pre-trial service officers. These are complicated roles. Corrections treatment specialists and community managers have dual responsibility to the offender and the larger community.

Featured Programs:
  • Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an Online Bachelor’s in Psychology. This program is modeled around the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines. APA does not accredit undergraduate psychology programs. Capella University, also offers several Online Master’s and Doctoral programs in Psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Visit School's Website.


  • Grand Canyon University (GCU) - offers an online Bachelor's in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. GCU also offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Visit School's Website.


  • Pepperdine University - Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy online - Prepare to pursue licensure as an LMFT or LPC in as few as 24 months. No GRE required. Visit School's Website.


  • University of Southern California - Online MSW - With options for both online and in-person field placement, USC's CSWE-accredited MSW program allows those with a BSW to earn their degree in as few as 12 months. Visit School's Website.


  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Visit School's Website.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that professionals in this occupation group generally have degrees in behavioral sciences, criminal justice, or social work. The minimum is usually a bachelor’s. Some individuals pursue master’s degrees so they can advance.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers an online Bachelor’s in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. Several Master’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Psychology study helps people appreciate the complexity of human behavior: how it has biological, cognitive, emotional, and social dimensions.

Applying Psychology Coursework

How can a psychology degree foster a career in corrections treatment? Psychology study helps people appreciate the complexity of human behavior: how it has biological, cognitive, emotional, and social dimensions. It provides some basis for understanding both normal and abnormal cognitive processes at different stages of the lifecycle.

Psychology study can also develop analytical and critical thinking within a behavioral science context. This can be helpful for community managers who are involved in evaluating and making recommendations, whether at the pre-trial level, the sentencing level, or after a period of imprisonment. Coursework in assessment and evaluation can also be important for some roles.

Psychology coursework can provide insight into different populations. Some probation officers specialize in work with teenage offenders; the BLS reports that most probation offers work solely with either adult or juvenile populations. It’s a different corrections system. It’s also a different population. In a world of brain scans, psychologists know that parts of the brain involved in decision making and impulse control don’t mature fully until a person is in their 20s. Adolescent psychology is a common, though not universal, undergraduate course offering.

While case management of males and females may fall to the same officer, needs can be different. Psychology students may want to take coursework in women’s psychology or psychology of gender. Then there’s the issue how ethnic and racial identity impact people’s self-perception and decision making, and how race may impact the justice system. Some departments offer courses in multicultural psychology.

Preparing to be a Treatment Provider

Some programs have an applied or direct service component. This can provide preparation for roles in case management. This is often a big part of the job, as people who have been in prison face real challenges obtaining employment and meeting basic needs. After all, prison isn’t most people’s favorite explanation for gaps on a resume. Compounding this, many offenders have substance abuse and/ or mental health issues.

Some psychology departments offer coursework in criminal justice or rehabilitation. Psychology students may also have the opportunity to take coursework in addictions psychology, rehabilitation psychology, or psychiatric rehabilitation; psychiatric rehabilitation focuses on integrating people with mental disorders into the work world and community.

Practicum and internships are integrated into some psychology programs. Other programs allow students the option of doing an internship as capstone project. Possible internship sites include municipal courts, corrections centers, and juvenile detention centers.

Making Professional Connections

Prospective parole officers and corrections treatment providers have multiple degree options at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It’s not all about the degree itself, but the experiences one has.

Those interested in community management may wish to join the American Probation and Parole Association (http://www.appa-net.org/eweb/DynamicPage.aspx?WebCode=IIA_Overview). Students are eligible for membership, which includes a web subscription and discounts on role-specific trainings,

Some psychology students will also be interested in Division 18 of the American Psychological Association, Psychologists in Public Service (http://www.apadivisions.org/division-18/index.aspx).