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How to Become a Prison Counselor

Learn how to become a prison counselor. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a prison counselor.

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Do I Want to Be a Prison Counselor?

Prison counselors may also be referred to as correctional treatment specialists or corrections counselors. Their responsibilities include providing counseling to prisoners and helping them with their rehabilitation process. Prison counselors will evaluate prisoner behavior and prepare reports that may be submitted to Parole Boards. Working in the prison environment may seem negative and stressful to some individuals. Others may feel rewarded knowing they serve as a positive influence in prisoners' lives.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement to work in the field; however, a master's degree may be beneficial. Certification may be required in some states. Opportunities are available to achieve higher-level prison counselor positions; this can be earned through gaining experience in the field. The table below includes the requirements to become a prison counselor.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Criminal justice, social work, psychology*
Certification Some states may require certification exams and/or a training program*
Experience Experience is necessary to advance in the field**
Key Skills Prison counselors must have strong critical-thinking and decision-making skills, be organized and have the ability to communicate effectively**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); **Job Boards (October 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students pursuing a career as a prison counselor need to acquire a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology or social work. A criminal justice program prepares students for work in a correctional facility by offering courses in the criminal justice system, criminal theory and research, juvenile delinquency, criminal supervision, violence and the court system. Psychology programs emphasize counseling and understanding human behavior, while social work programs focus on helping and counseling individuals.

Success Tip:

  • Consider a master's degree. A master's degree in criminal justice, psychology or sociology may be looked upon favorably when pursuing managerial or supervisory positions in the correctional field.

Step 2: Determine Career Readiness

Prison counselors must be physically and emotionally fit individuals who can cope with demanding, fast-paced and stressful work. This type of counselor works with potentially dangerous prisoners and must counsel offenders who may be hostile or uncooperative. Counselors must have a wide range of skills in order to address anger problems, depression, addiction and family issues. Prison counselors must be able to focus on the rewarding nature of the rehabilitation process despite the difficult working conditions.

Step 3: Obtain Entry-Level Position

Prison counselors may be hired as probationary trainees who must pass a certification test after one year before they are hired by a correctional facility. Requirements for employment as a prison counselor vary according to state, but oral and written competency exams are usually necessary. Psychological and physical tests are also administered.

Success Tip:

  • Pursue advancement opportunities. As counselors gain more experience in the field, they can pursue advancement opportunities. These prison counselors will carry out decisions regarding programs and have supervisory responsibilities.
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