Phil Magaletta, PhD, is a mid-career public service psychologist. He currently resides in Maryland, between Washington and Baltimore, and works as an administrator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In his role there as the chief, clinical education and workforce development, he and his team have oversight for psychology practica, internship, postdoctoral and CE trainings across the country. I was able to speak with Magaletta over the phone earlier this month, and asked him about his work in correctional psychology as well as his thoughts on the future of the field.

What inspired you to be a psychologist working in the criminal justice system?

I guess, similar to many correctional psychologists, I was inspired by the camaraderie of the staff and the opportunity to work with underserved populations. You know, standard stuff, although this was not my initial career trajectory. The future I initially envisioned for myself was working with impaired clergy and religious. I had a job lined up at an inpatient psychiatric center where such treatment occurred, but I also had an interview at a penitentiary and it all took off from there.  Looking back, I believe there were similarities between the two populations — whether in a monastery or a penitentiary, the clinician is always considering the role of community in treatment and always aiming toward lifestyle change as an aspect of treatment. 

Where are there gaps in the research? What should psychologists be researching now?

Well, that’s good question.  Research is my passion. I think we need to do more work not only on the psychosocial approaches to change but also on the profits of recovery for the seriously mentally ill during incarceration. Recovery is important on multiple levels because it aims toward lifestyle change. It may not be the traditional way psychologists have described working with those who have serious mental illness, but it is certainly at the root of the work when we are talking about a comprehensive approach to change. And, when we are talking about criminals, I believe criminality should be described as a disorder of lifestyle. This is one reason that those requiring an integrated, comprehensive treatment approach for both their mental illness and criminality benefit from a recovery-oriented approach to change.   

As a person who overseas psychology internship training across the country, what do you think students should look out for to have a good internship training experience?

They should attend to the culture of the internship program and the institution offering it.  Research consistently demonstrates that this “match” between the program culture and student and their learning style is important for the student to learn throughout the internship year. They should assess and be okay with the culture of the institution. Each internship and internship program across the county has distinguishable cultures. Interns should try to get a sense of that.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your career?

Watching other psychologists grow and develop. And, being invited to participate in that growth. Also, participating in the change process with corrections staff and inmates.

If students and early career psychologists are interested in a career at the Bureau of Prisons system, how do you suggest they could prepare for that and get their foot in the door?

I have always preferred to take an individual approach with anyone who asks this question, so I always suggest that if this is an important question for someone, they should email me or call me at (202) 514-2804.  When you take the time to individually meet and understand people, you are in a much better position to understand where they might best make their own important contribution in public service.   

What has been your biggest professional challenge?

One of my greatest challenges has been to understand that my job is to get people jobs. We are creating opportunities, from a workforce development perspective. Lots of my colleagues get to focus on the “what” of change — the techniques and manuals for treatment.  Our work in workforce development takes a different tact, we have to stay focused on the “who” question.  Frankly it’s difficult to work in a prison. It is difficult both professionally and personally, and that is true regardless of who the staff member is. Overall, professional development and self-care for correctional psychologists remains extremely important. This is a topic we are passionate about, and we just wrote up a paper in the National Register of Health Service Providers on this topic. 

Where do you see the forensic psychologist role developing over the next 5-10 years? How might that influence current students and early career professionals?

I think students will continue to need foundational, generalist clinical and counseling psychologist competencies. There will continue to be a need for the specialization in the treatment of substance abuse and sexual offences. Also, there will be an emerging need for psychologists to provide psychological services to geriatric offenders.

Finally, any advice to the newcomers, the students, the doctoral candidates, the early career psychologists?

I would emphasize that relationships are very important to developing self-care strategies. You need to find and continue to scout out opportunities to be mentored. Div. 18 is a great place to do that.

Date created: October 2016