Forensic Criminology Explained: How Does It Differ From Forensics?

By now, you probably have a good general idea of what criminology is, and you might also have an understanding of forensic science. In a nutshell, forensics entails using knowledge in the hard sciences  (biology, chemistry) for use in the legal system, most often related to a crime.

Some people are actually thinking of forensics when they hear the term criminology, and although they both play important roles, they clearly represent two distinct areas.

But what, then, is forensic criminology? If forensics and criminology are so different, then how could they also combine to form a sub-discipline?

In a key text, (Forensic Criminology, published by Academic Press), authors Petherick, Turvey and Ferguson define forensic criminology as “the scientific study of crime and criminals for the purposes of addressing investigative and legal issues.”

Basically, forensic criminologists research crime from a sociological perspective, as is the case with criminology as a whole, but their focus is on the criminal justice system.

The goal of some criminology research is to address the needs of criminals, but some actually has a reforming effect on the systems themselves. Forensic criminology zeroes in on the aspects of criminology that are of immediate interest to the courts.

But what about other career paths for forensics science, such as medical examiners, crime scene investigators, and crime lab analysts? Are these counted under the field of forensic criminology?

I’d answer that the question is similar to whether police officers are counted as criminologists. Using a broad definition of the term, a cop certainly does study crime and criminals, often from a scientific perspective. But he or she usually does not need to have a degree in the field, especially not an advanced one.

And in order to work as a CSI or medical examiner, you will need a degree in forensic science and a background in the hard sciences, not a PhD or Master’s in criminology, but your coursework might include some study in criminology. So you could argue that all of these careers do count as forensic criminology, but a more common understanding of forensic criminology careers would be positions involved in research in order to address criminal law and the criminal justice system.

There are very few programs in forensic criminology, and in most cases it would be an area of specialization within a criminology program.

It is tough to completely rely on any single definition for forensic criminology. If you have spent much time at all with the social sciences you’ve most likely already begun to encounter a seemingly endless web of fields, subfields, and complex interrelationships among them.

Another interesting resource I found relating to forensic criminology is a consulting firm known as the Forensic Criminology Associates. They offer “security consulting services to both public and private sectors, as well as “expert and testifying expert services” in a variety of areas.

Note: this post is based on my personal experience, and my idea of forensic criminology might not be exactly the same as yours, or that of your educational institution or employer. If you don’t agree with something or have other points to add, please let me know in the comments. (As we encourage for every post on this site!)


  1. What’s up, just wanted to say, I liked this article.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  2. What is the difference between forensic psychology and criminalists. Thanks

  3. Please help me to discuss historical development to criminology