Can a Felon Become a Private Investigator?

Felons hoping to start a new career can find the prospect daunting. With a criminal record in tow, felons often believe that fulfilling employment is out of reach. However, this is often inaccurate. Felons are often eligible to gain the vast majority of careers that they may desire, but they don’t apply for fear of rejection.

The truth is that felons often get in their own way. They become so convinced that they will not get accepted into the career that they desire that they settle for an entry level position. Felons hoping to break free of this mindset are encouraged to apply for any job they find appealing: it can’t hurt!

Felons looking for fulfilling and exciting employment may wish to explore the prospect of becoming a private investigator. A private investigator is essentially a police detective that works largely non-criminal cases. This career provides substantial pay, a flexible schedule, and most importantly, a consistently exciting workday.

So, What Exactly is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator is an someone who is contracted by a company or individual to investigate a person, event, or business. A private investigator typically specializes in a particular field. This can be everything from computer forensics to criminal investigation to personal investigation.[1] This specialty is typically dependent on an individual’s background. For example, a computer forensics investigator is likely to have a background in IT or computer programming. Individuals with a business background will likely be prime candidates to investigate white-collar crime.

Felons will want to take this into consideration when considering becoming a private investigator: what background do they have that could contribute to a specialty? Individuals will often be surprised at what they have to offer to the private investigator profession.

Are Private Investigators Government-Operated?

Felons may be surprised at how receptive private investigator firms are to hiring individuals with a criminal past. In some cases, having a background in going through the criminal justice process could even prove to be an asset to a potential employer. This is because these firms are not government entities. They are independent entities that have nothing to do with state or federal government. Thus, they have no overarching requirements about hiring felons.

This disassociation from the government also comes with its perks. Private investigators aren’t subject to the same bureaucratic red tape as government-employed police detectives. This means that they can operate on their own accord and not worry about legislature getting in the way of doing their job.

The drawback of this government disaffiliation is the lack of government resources. These resources include access to confidential information, search warrants, and government funding. Private investigators also risk violating privacy laws if they violate any laws and are thus liable to prosecution. Particularly for an ex-felon, this situation is far from optimal.

Nonetheless, becoming a private investigator can be a rewarding and lucrative job. In fact, this career has an annual median salary of $50,000.[2] This is far higher than the average person income in the United States, which sits at roughly $31,099.[3]

So, what can a felon do if they wish to begin a career as a private investigator?

Getting Investigative Experience

Becoming a private investigator begins with experience. Applicants to a private investigative firm will likely be expected to have some type of experience in the investigative field. This “experience” is fairly subjective, and there are many ways for it to be acquired.

The simplest way to obtain this experience is to intern with an investigative industry. This will likely be unpaid, although it will provide an individual with invaluable documented experience that can assist their application to become a private investigator.

An individual can also opt for online courses within the field. There are a number of websites that are available that provide certified investigative curriculum that will be accepted by a private investigative firm.

A degree in criminal justice can also constitute as investigative experience. This degree also greatly diminishes the amount of other experience that an individual need to become a private investigator. For instance, California requires a minimum of 6,000 hours of paid investigative experience if they do not have a bachelor’s degree. Those with a bachelor’s degree, however, need only 4,000 hours.

Getting a college degree may not be in the plans for some felons. However, this is totally acceptable. As long as the sufficient experience hours are logged and approved, an individual without a college degree will still be qualified to become a private investigator.

Passing the Test

After all training hours have been acquired and logged, potential private investigators in most states will need to pass a private investigator exam. This exam varies by state, but it traditionally is necessary to be able to practice private investigation in the state. There are states, like Arizona, Connecticut, and Mississippi that have no exam requirements. Others, like California, Colorado, Hawaii, and many others do have state-mandated exams. All of these states require passage of an exam to legally practice private investigation.

These tests variety in their rigor. Some states, like California, have an exam with a two-hour time limit and an in-person proctor. Other states, such as Colorado, have no limit and allow for the exam to be taken online. An individual should evaluate their particular state’s testing requirements to ensure that they’re prepared.

Regardless of the type of test, it is important to be prepared for whatever the exam may present. Practice exams are available online for every state’s exam, and this invaluable resource should be thoroughly utilized.

If the exam is not passed, there is no need to fret. This exam can be taken at a later date. With a little extra studying, the second time around should be a breeze.

Applying to Become a Private Investigator

After passage of an exam, an individual can officially become a private investigator. For this to happen, however, they have to get hired first. Luckily for felons, this position examines experience over criminal background. Employers in this field will be more receptive than most to hire people who have been convicted of a crime. Felons have an insight into the criminal justice system that most don’t possess, and this won’t be discounted by potential employers.

Regardless of this, felons should still be prepared to answer questions about their background. Questions regarding the nature of the time, time incarcerated, and how their time was spent post-incarceration will likely arise. In this case, honesty is key. They are private investigators after all.


Felons traditionally seem to be unaware of their worth in the job market. They often devalue themselves and believe that there are few meaningful careers that will hire them. This mindset is vastly untrue. Felons can largely become whatever they want to be in life.

This statement is especially true when it comes to becoming a private investigator. This is a valuable, fulfilling career that is readily accessible to felons.

Depending on their background, potential private investigators can choose from a wide variety of specialties in their field. From here, training, and possibly an exam, are the only things in the way of becoming a private investigator.




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