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.

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Do I Want to Be 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 that provides the opportunity to work with prisoners, like 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 with the position. Some risk is associated with this career as correctional counselors may interact with dangerous criminals and/or upset or angry family members. Some may carry a firearm or pepper spray. The job can be stressful, with court-imposed deadlines often a factor. Correctional treatment specialists work full-time, though longer hours are prevalent, as the workload often demands more than 40 hours per week.

Job Requirements

The career path to becoming a correctional counselor typically requires developing formal and informal skills through a relevant bachelor's degree program, though some employers require a master's degree if the job candidate has no previous experience.

The following table contains the main requirements for being a correctional counselor:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree often required; a 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 Decision-making skills, communication skills, emotional stability*
Computer Skills Computer use and knowledge needed to enter data or write reports**

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 also 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.

Success Tip:

  • Consider advanced education.Correctional counselors who hold a bachelor's degree may be able to further their careers by obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in criminal justice or a closely related subject. The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) also offers continuing education courses and provides accreditation for programs that meet its standards of professional education, as well as specialized training options for community corrections, probation or parole workers.
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