How to Become a Penologist / Prison Warden

Penologists are experts in incarceration and rehabilitation of criminals. A criminal justice degree can be a critical step toward a career as a penologist, which requires a keen familiarity and understanding of the corrections system.

Specialize in Prison Management As a Penologist

A penologist specializes in management of prisons and rehabilitation of prisoners and criminals. These professionals work in the prison system at either the local, state, or federal level. As a penologist, you work with other occupations in the prison system such as criminologists, guards, and probation and parole officers. Direct contact with prisoners is also part of the job.

In this capacity, a penologist performs a number of duties and functions such as:

  • Prison management
  • Architecture of prisons
  • Inmate treatment programs
  • Prisoner self-help programs
  • Rehabilitation

Prisons range from low security to maximum security, so penologists may work in a variety of environments with different types of prisoners, and specific job requirements may vary based on the setting.

How a Criminal Justice Degree can Prepare You for a Career as a Penologist

A bachelor’s degree is usually required for a career as a penologist. Common degrees include degrees in criminal justice, justice administration, and psychology. A criminal justice degree can help prepare you for a penologist career with curriculum that focuses on prison system issues such as overcrowding, rehabilitation, budgets, punishments, and criminal psychology.

Outlook for Penologist Career

The job outlook for occupations in corrections is expected to be favorable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, population growth and increasing rates of incarceration should drive this demand as well as tough legislation calling for longer sentences and limited parole.


How to Become a Prison Warden

Despite what you may have seen in Hollywood productions, prison wardens are not grumpy, crass, overbearing dictators who are bent on punishing their charges. Rather, to become a warden, you must be deeply committed to helping convicted criminals reverse their attitudes and prepare for their eventual reentry back into society. This is why the prison system is called “corrections.”

Responsibilities of a Prison Warden

In a nutshell, the warden oversees all of the administrative duties of the prison. So if you wanted to become a warden, you would have to learn accounting, inventory, human resources, psychology, corrections, hostage negotiations, conflict resolution, crisis management, state regulations, federal regulations, criminal law, Constitutional law, and countless other areas. That’s because you have one of the most import jobs in society. Not only must you ensure that no prisoner escapes, but you must also make certain that they are humanely treated, well fed, and given every opportunity to make up for their previous transgressions.

Educational Requirements

Many wardens come out of corrections programs, law enforcement schools, and criminal science colleges. Sometimes, a distinguished record can help catapult a recent graduate all the way up to the top, but more commonly, one goes through all of the ranks starting with a corrections or parole officer. If you already have experience in law enforcement or corrections, you might be able to climb the career ladder relatively quickly. Otherwise, it’s strongly recommended that you receive as much formal training as possible before pursuing this particular career.