How to Become a Correctional Counselor

Find out how to become a correctional counselor. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in criminal justice.

Should I Become a Correctional Counselor?

Correctional counselors, also called correctional treatment specialists or case managers, help inmates develop plans for when they are no longer on parole, probation, or incarcerated. They also create detailed records concerning each inmate's history, along with an assessment of the inmate's risk for being arrested again. Sometimes correctional counselors advance into their positions after gaining experience in a related position within the criminal justice system, such as working as a corrections officer.

Almost all correctional counselors work for local or state government and, as a result, may expect a measure of job stability and good benefits. Some risk is also associated with this career, however, since correctional counselors may interact with dangerous criminals. The job can be stressful, with court-imposed deadlines and a large workload that often demands over 40 hours of work per week.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree often required; master's degree may be preferred
Degree Field Criminal justice, social work, psychology
Experience Previous experience in a related position in corrections is helpful
Key Skills Decisiveness, effective communication skills, emotional stability, basic knowledge of computers for entering data or writing reports
Salary $49,060 (Annual median salary for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists as of May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online.

Step 1: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the minimum educational requirement to work in the correctional system is often a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, criminal justice or a related field. These bachelor's degree programs generally offer coursework in areas that can be beneficial in the correctional field, such as anthropology, social psychology, corrections methods, law, security administration and government.

Success Tip:

  • Obtain relevant experience. Many correctional counselors start out as correctional officers or jailers in state or federal prisons. Correctional counselors who have previously worked as correctional officers or in other positions within the justice system can develop an understanding of the issues faced by corrections counselors. Previous work experience in counseling may also be required by some employers, according to the BLS.

Step 2: Pass the Required Examinations and Meet Hiring Standards

Individuals who work with prison inmates are required to take a number of examinations, including psychological and physical exams. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age to work in prison systems; however, federal prisons may also require that an applicant be no more than 37 years old. Applicants must possess a valid driver's license and be able to pass a criminal background check. The BLS states that those with previous criminal convictions may not be eligible to work as correctional counselors.

Step 3: Complete a Government-Sponsored Training Program

Federal or state government employers may sponsor a required training program that culminates in an examination. During this period, it is also not uncommon for correctional counselor candidates to serve a probationary period of up to 1 year, in which their work is closely supervised before they are hired on as full-time counselors.

Step 4: Pursue Further Education and Training

There are several ways for correctional counselors to advance their career through further education. Those who hold a bachelor's degree may be able to grow professionally by obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in criminal justice or a closely related subject. Additionally, the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) offers continuing education courses and specialized training opportunities for community corrections, probation or parole workers, providing official accreditation for programs that meet its standards of professional education.

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