When you think of prison-related job opportunities, you may assume students pursuing a degree in criminal justice would be most interested and/or best suited. But, students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville learned that psychologists are also important contributors in such institutions.
School of Education, Health and Human Behavior Interim Dean Paul Rose, PhD, accompanied a group of undergraduate and graduate students pursuing psychology and sociology degrees on a field trip to the Federal Corrections Institution in Greenville to get a first-hand look at the role of a clinical psychologist in that setting. SIUE alumnus Pat Sears, PsyD, led the visit.
“The forensic, criminal behavior/legal aspects of psychology have always been of interest to me,” said junior psychology major Erin Ryan, of Metamora. “During this visit, I learned there is an overwhelming need for mental health professionals in correctional settings for various reasons. I never genuinely knew that there were so many opportunities for clinical psychologists and various other mental health professionals in both juvenile and adult corrections settings.”
The students toured the institution, learned about Dr. Sears’ duties and mission, gained information on job opportunities and had a chance to ask questions of a few inmates.
“This experience let me see how a minimum federal prison operates,” said Lizzy Sakran, of Smithton, who is pursuing a master’s in clinical psychology. “It was eye-opening. It put into perspective that not everyone housed in a prison is a violent, psychotic criminal. Many individuals are friendly and working on bettering themselves before they are released.”
“Psychologists are extremely useful in a prison setting,” she explained. “They’re are able to diagnose and help treat these individuals. Also, prisoners are taught important life skills and coping mechanisms that they can use once they are released. Psychologists can help these individuals learn how to function outside of prison, which hopefully decreases recidivism.”
According to Rose, this type of experiential learning opportunity fosters student development and allows exploration of professional opportunities.
“We’re grateful to Dr. Sears, an accomplished alumnus from our Department of Psychology, for generously donating his time to educate us about his fascinating work,” Rose said. “Our students were clearly impressed by the tour. As a psychology alumnus, Dr. Sears could readily relate to the students, who asked excellent questions throughout the tour.”
Sakran and Ryan both reflected on the visit as a motivator to pursue their passion and make a significant impact in their career.
“I truly learned vast amounts of information that will aide in my future career,” Ryan said. “I desire to become a licensed clinical psychologist. After this trip, I am thoroughly considering the possibilities that could be within grasp if I work for the United States Public Health Service like Dr. Sears.”
“I am interested in cognitive assessment,” added Sakran. “I plan to work at an institution where I can provide mental illness assessments on inmates. Eventually, I would love to conduct criminal assessments for a court, as well as specialize in jury selection.”
The SIUE School of Education, Health and Human Behavior prepares students in a wide range of fields including community and public health, exercise science, nutrition, instructional technology, psychology, speech-language pathology and audiology, educational administration, and teaching. Faculty members engage in leading-edge research, which enhances teaching and enriches the educational experience. The School supports the community through on-campus clinics, outreach to children and families, and a focused commitment to enhancing individual lives across the region.
Photo: SIUE students visiting the Federal Corrections Institution in Greenville (L-R) Alex Mena, Erin Ryan, Kaitlin Henning, Lizzy Sakran, Amanda Raymond and Megan Mosley (not pictured). They stand alongside School of Education, Health and Human Behavior Interim Dean Paul Rose.