Criminal psychology is a unique hybrid of criminal justice and psychology, and best viewed as a branch of criminology.
Psychology is the general study of the mind. Criminal psychology is the study of the minds of criminals, with the goal of predicting, explaining, or preventing crime. One of the most important things that criminal psychologists learn in criminology college is the art and science of criminal profiling.
Another important component of criminal psychology is offender profiling, which involves using the known behaviors of an unknown offender to create a psychological profile of them. This can be useful in making educated guesses as to where the criminal might live, and when or how they might strike next. Based on the details of just a few crimes that are believed to have been committed by the same person, a skilled offender profiler or criminal psychologist from a good criminology college can come up with an uncannily accurate profile. These profiles have proven accurate in some of the minutest details about the criminal’s life. For example, profilers have been able to accurately predict whether an offender was male or female, their ethnicity, their religion, whether they are married, who they live with (a parent, sibling, alone, etc.) and even what they’ll probably be wearing when they’re arrested.
From a legal standpoint, it’s not clear if evidence from criminal psychologists, particularly offender profiles, is admissible in court to identify the defendant as the offender, but their value as an investigative tool cannot be overstated.
Criminal profilers or criminal psychologists who have graduated from a well-regarded criminology college often work in a wide variety of fields, including the U.S. governments at the federal, state, and local level, as well as in the private sector. Besides working for federal and state law enforcement agencies as consultants when their skills are needed, they also work at the teaching facilities of these agencies. Criminal psychologists often become instructors at the same criminology college which they attended. In the private sector, they can work with families or employers of kidnapping victims, helping to secure their release, though this is a very small, niche industry.
In addition to raising fascinating legal questions, criminal psychology is a growing and rewarding career field for those willing to put in the effort to get a degree from a respected criminology college.