Both criminal and forensic psychologists work closely with the courts.
Although they both work closely with the legal system, criminal and forensic psychologists have different focuses. While both professionals generally have a doctorate in psychology, a criminal psychologist evaluates criminals exclusively. A forensic psychologist, by contrast, works with all types of court cases, including civil matters not involving criminals. Much of a criminal psychologist's work is done on a theoretical basis, before a perpetrator has even been identified, while a forensic psychologist tends to evaluate persons already identified by the courts.
A criminal psychologist studies case files of known offenders to identify patterns that can be used to sketch profiles of distinct offender types. Factors typically predicted by criminal psychologists include age, background, personality, habits and even the neighborhood in which the criminal is likely to live. In 1981, John E. Douglas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's, or FBI's, top profiler correctly predicted, for example, that the child serial murderer who was terrorizing Atlanta would be a young, African-American male who owned a German Shepherd dog and was preoccupied with police culture.
To construct an accurate profile, a criminal psychologist reviews and sometimes even conducts extensive research. When John E. Douglas was pioneering data profiling for the FBI, for example, he interviewed dozens of violent criminals, including Charles Manson and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz. Details are collected from poring over closed case files, including the location of the crime, the appearance of the crime scene, the way the victim's body is arranged after death and, when available, results of standardized personality tests, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Because they spend so much time mining data, many criminal psychologists work for universities or are directly employed by the government.
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