Offenders who are preparing for release or attempting reintegration into society often require the assistance of trained corrections professionals. Correctional counselors are usually assigned to help these ex-offenders develop health coping strategies, obtain gainful employment and cultivate healthy relationships. Usually trained in social work or psychology, correctional counselors employ a variety of therapeutic and integration techniques to resolve underlying psychological issues like sexual abuse or chemical dependency.
Correctional counselors may work within the confines of a prison and provide one-on-one or group therapies. Some of these counseling responsibilities may extend outside the prison and involve interactions with family, friends, or partners. These duties outside the correctional system are enlarged when a prisoner has completed their sentence.
Correctional Counselor Job Description
Correctional counselor jobs enlist professionals able to perform the following duties:
- Monitor the behavior of patients
- Conduct individual or group therapy sessions
- Assist newly released prisoners develop healthy routines
- Recommend employers, therapists, or drug treatment facilities
- Facilitate healing of relationships with family and friends
- Alert police about potentially risky or illegal behavior
How to Become a Correctional Counselor
Many local, state and federal agencies employ correctional counselors and the employment requirements may differ considerably. While most federal and state organizations require that correctional counselors possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, some municipal or county jurisdictions may only require a high school diploma, GED or associate’s degree.
In recent years the demand for correctional counselors has increased as prison populations have burgeoned. The competition for these jobs has also grown, however, so many of the most desirable jobs are awarded to the most qualified applicants. These professionals tend to possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, social work or criminal justice.
Because there is a risk of violence when working with inmates, almost all prison departments mandate that correctional counselors successfully pass a physical evaluation. The exact standards may differ so applicants should research them beforehand, but these standards usually involve superior upper body strength, stamina and agility.
The minimum qualifications for correctional counselor jobs usually includes:
- Valid state driver’s license
- Ability to pass a drug test
- Ability to pass a background check
- At least 21 years of age
- No criminal convictions
An application and supporting documents should be submitted to the local, state, or federal department of corrections of choice. If approved, candidates may be required to complete a written exam that assesses basic reading and math skills. An interview, medical examination and polygraph test may also be required. A thorough background check is also conducted to ensure that the candidate does possess any disqualifying factors like habitual insolvency or extensive drug use.
Correctional counselors are expected to complete a training program before entering a prison environment. This program may include
- Close combat
- Clerical skills
- Agency procedures
- Report writing
- Community service
Most agencies require that new hires serve for at least a year before achieving full status as a correctional counselor.
Correctional Counselor Salary
Correctional counselors averaged $52,380 in annual salary in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 36,610 correctional counselors working in local governments averaged $53,110, while the 46,300 working at the state level earned salaries that average $52,840.