Psychology in the Community: Probation & Parole

Crystal Johnson, a senior psychology major at Mason.
Crystal Johnson, a senior psychology major at Mason.

PSYC 327: Psychology in the Community serves as an experiential learning opportunity for undergraduate students. Often referred to as “the internship class,” it provides students the chance to apply their skills in a variety of professional settings. Students can work directly with clients or shadow professionals to gain real-world experience in the field, then chronicle their training in reflection pieces that allow them to track their learning progression and discuss their observations with peers. Crystal Johnson, a senior psychology major at Mason, shared her experience with the class and how it has impacted her.


Where is your service-learning site and what made you choose it?

Crystal: I’m at Fairfax [County Office of] Probation and Parole and I chose it because I was taking a community corrections course.  I’m a psych major but I’m minoring in criminology. A speaker came to the class and told us about Probation and Parole and it made me want to talk to her. So then I ended up getting the internship over the summer.


Describe an average day at your service-learning site.

Crystal: When I go in, I’m assigned a different probation officer (PO) everyday to shadow. During that I learn different things. For example, “Gang Unit” was something that I was able to shadow someone with. Basically, I went to her office and she told me everything that she could tell me about gangs and things to watch out for since I go into the community doing field visits with the POs. It’s just a precaution, like things to look out for. For example, going into someone’s house and seeing red flags and you’re like, “Okay, I know to get out of here!” It’s really cool. It’s just a day full of learning a lot of different things.


How has this class benefitted you?

Crystal: It’s benefitted me a lot! Other internships that I’ve had just gave me paperwork—told me to “shred this” or “do this.” With this, I’m actually able to experience the life of a probation officer. I see them actually doing it and I actually go into the field, I’m not just doing paperwork. Being active has exposed me to a lot, much more than I intended to get out of this. The reflection part—we have to write journals for the class—allows me to go home and reflect on what I did and how great of an opportunity it is. I’ve talked to people and they’re like “I didn’t get to do that in my internship!” Even people who have done this internship are like “Wow, we didn’t get to do half of the stuff that you’re doing.”


What are some skills that you have learned that you plan to use in the future?

Crystal: Communication styles, especially with offenders and different populations. We did this training called EPICS [effective practices for correctional supervision], which comes from a psychology perspective. With me being interested in psychology, I thought that was really cool. It’s about helping the offender with their needs. Yes, they’ve done their crime but they still have needs. It’s deeper than that. It’s about seeing what they actually need in order to help them not recidivate, or relapse.


What is your favorite aspect of the internship?

Crystal: Just being able to be in the office and them allowing me to do so much. Right now I’m writing a Pre-sentence Investigation Report that they’ll use in court. So I’ll be able to write this before the end of my internship for them to actually use in the courts. Overall, it’s a wonderful experience. I’m glad I took the course.