Communication in the Criminal Justice Field
Criminology is a branch of sociology that focuses on the causes, effects and social impact of crimes. In many ways, the social aspect of criminology defines the field. For the criminologist, the ability to shift between conveying information with authority and listening carefully with compassion lies at the heart of communication in criminal justice. No matter what role you fill in this field, communication—both written and oral—is the number one skill you can polish in preparation for a criminology career.
Though criminologists can find work in many contexts, there is one constant in every field: reporting. Many of the skills of a statistician are equally applicable to the criminologist, the global security officer or the corrections officer. By analyzing and assessing data about the causes and effects of crime and the efficacy of various intervention methods, the job of a criminologist is to understand the patterns and motives associated with crime and to develop recommendations to handle crime issues.
But those recommendations are meaningless if they can’t be communicated to the professionals who manage apprehending and rehabilitating criminals. For that reason, criminologists spend much of their time organizing their findings into digestible reports that can be shared broadly. Without the ability to communicate clearly in writing, none of the criminologist’s findings can become actionable.1
Two common career paths for the criminologist are policing and victimology. In these areas especially, strong verbal communication skills are crucial. By their very nature, the fields of policing and victimology require a lot of face-to-face interaction with a vast swath of society, working with demographically diverse populations as well as individuals who are violent, have mental illness or any number of other conditions requiring special treatment.
For this reason, adaptability and a keen awareness of others are important for criminologists. For police, communicating politely and conveying concern are key to securing compliance. And for both police and victimologists, the ability to conduct an interview is critical to successful outcomes. Clear communication builds trust, and trust is the pathway to positive relationships.2
How exactly does one begin to effectively communicate verbally? For most of us, instruction in public speaking and communication starts with our own voice: we learn to enunciate clearly, and to articulate ourselves in an organized and clear way so that we can be heard. These are useful tools, but they are self-focused. Communication experts suggest starting by looking outward.
The most important trait of a good communicator is a heightened sense of contextual and situational awareness. Good communication starts by understanding who you’re communicating with and what state they’re in, which can be achieved through careful listening and observation. In this way, a skilled criminologist understands how to adjust their message to a particular audience without compromising the content they intend to communicate.3
Some criminologists work in making policy on either the local or national stage. Others work with prison populations or with the victims of crimes. With such sensitive roles to play, criminologists must be strong leaders. As leaders, honest communication makes the difference between cooperative and antagonistic relationships with those they serve. Though there is a lot of power in pursuing a career in criminal justice, it’s important to remember that empathy will get you farther than ego every time.
For effective communication in criminal justice, it’s most important to start by listening. Once you fully understand the social context of your interaction, clear, direct and humble written and verbal communication builds positive community relationships and ensures that recommendations for solving issues reach a broad audience while retaining the initial intent of the communicator. In a nutshell, this is effective leadership.
How will you impact communication in the fields of criminology or criminal justice? Take a look at the career specializations available through Kent State University’s online Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice program, and choose a new direction for your future.
1. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from princetonreview.com/careers/47/criminologist
2. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from natcom.org/communication-currents/police-communication-why-does-it-matter
3. Retrieved on April 13, 2018, from forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/04/04/10-communication-secrets-of-great-leaders/2/#5ea73ed26025