So You Want To Work For The FBI

When I young (probably too young), I read John Douglas’s book [amazon_link id=”0671528904″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Mind Hunter.[/amazon_link] It was both intriguing and disturbing.  It contains stories that I will never forget, for better or for worse.

It remains probably one of the most popular books in the “FBI Profiler” genre. Special Agent John Douglas has hunted, studied or interviewed some of the most notorious serial killers and criminals including John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, The Green River Killer, Sirhan Sirhan, and many others.

Many students interested in criminology or criminal justice are fascinated by serial killers and notorious criminals. They want to work with the “worst of the worst.” Many also want to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Wanting to work for the FBI is understandable since it is one of the most respected agencies in the world.

Working For The FBI

More specifically, students often want to become FBI profilers. Interestingly, the FBI states, on their website, that there are no actual profiler jobs. That job title does not exist. Individuals who receive specialized behavioral training hold the title “Supervisory Special Agents” and are assigned to the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime.

Too many students in the criminal justice field ONLY want to work for the FBI. You should aim high but also realize that the FBI is very rigorous about who they choose to work among their elite team. Click here to read about who the FBI is looking to hire.

Know Your Options

Even if a job in the FBI is not in your future, that is okay. There are plenty of immensely rewarding jobs in the criminal justice system. If you are considering a career in the field, it is important to familiarize yourself with your options. A great place to begin your research is the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Some career options include parole or probation, working in a jail diversion program such a drug court or a mental health court, working at the medical examiners office as an autopsy tech or a crime scene investigator, or working a state agency such as the postal inspectors office, among many others.

Job shadowing programs, internships and similar opportunities can help you explore your options. Check with your college or university for further assistance.

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Find Out What The Criminalization Hypothesis Is

Criminalization Hypothesis

Have you ever heard of the criminalization hypothesis? The basic premise is that individuals with serious mental illnesses (SMI) (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mainly) are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system because they are committing crimes and being arrested for offenses because of their untreated illness symptoms.

Abramson, more than 30 years ago, was the first to discuss “criminalization.” He believed that individuals with SMI are being routed through the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system.  He observed that trend in the early 1970s.


Defenders of the criminalization hypothesis cite studies (among others) such as Linda Teplin’s 1984 Chicago study in which it was found that individuals with a mental illness were arrested at a higher rate than those without a mental illness. The rate of arrests for individuals deemed mentally ill was 46.7 % compared to 27.9 % for individuals not appearing to have a mental illness. Teplin concluded from her study that individuals who appeared to be mentally ill had a higher probability of being arrested than those who did not. In her opinion, “clearly the way we treat our mentally ill is criminal.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Not everyone agrees with the criminalization hypothesis. Scientifically, it is difficult to prove. Within academic circles, it is a debate that may never be resolved.

In a future post, I will discuss alternative theories. What do you think?

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Mentally Ill Offenders By The Numbers

 Within the academic literature and government data, there exists a great deal of variability with regard to the numbers of mentally ill offenders in the US penal system. It can be difficult to know how big the problem is. Also complicating matters is that some reports estimate “mental illness,” “mental health problems,” while others estimate “serious mental illness.” The way in which those are defined matter. Below is a look at some of those figures.

Government Reports

  • The 2006 Bureau of Justice Report (BJS) cited that 1,264,000 individuals had mental health problems. A 1999 BJS reported cited approximately 283,000.

Journal Article Reports

  • In 2007, Lamb and colleagues estimated that 15% of the 2.1 million prisoners had a severe mental illness.
  • A study of Utah’s state prisoners estimated that 23% of the over 9,200 had a severe mental illness.
  • Steadman and colleagues estimated that about 50% of individuals in jails across the United States would be considered severely mentally ill.

Non-Peer Review Reports 

  • In 2003 a Human Rights Watch report estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 prisoners are mentally ill.
  • The Treatment Advocacy Center and The National Sheriffs’ Association looked at data in 16 states and estimated that about 15 to 20% of inmates had a serious mental illness.