How Can I Become a Prison Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a prison counselor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Medical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Prison Counselor?

Prison counselors, also known as corrections counselors, correctional treatment specialists, case managers, or rehabilitation counselors, help rehabilitate inmates of correctional institutions. They work closely with inmates to determine what services they will need to successfully re-enter society after they are released. This might entail conducting psychological tests and writing up case reports. They also provide them with information about their prospective release date, match them with job training programs or mental health services, and help them find housing. Learn more about this career from the table below:

Degree Required Bachelor's degree preferred
Education Field of StudyPsychology
Criminal Justice
Correctional Administration
Theology
Social Work
Key ResponsibilitiesInteract with prison officials, offenders, and family members
Evaluate offenders for treatment programs and work assignments
Prepare case files
Testify at parole hearings
Help prepare offenders for life after incarceration.
Licensure\CertificationSome employers require a certification exam
Civil Service Test required in some states.
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for all correctional treatment specialists and probation officers*
Mean Salary (2015)$54,080 for all correctional treatment specialists and probation officers *

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Prison Counselor?

The majority of prison counselors work for government agencies, which usually require a bachelor's degree. Most employers prefer to hire those with a degree in psychology, criminal justice, correctional administration, theology, social work or another relevant field.

Are There Other Employment Requirements?

Employment requirements can vary by state or municipality, and some require previous experience. Oftentimes, it can be in a related field, like criminal justice, social work, counseling or drug and alcohol abuse treatment. In other cases, a jurisdiction is very specific in the amount and type of experience required. Some employers will consider possession of a master's degree in a related field in lieu of previous experience.

The majority of employers require successful completion of psychological and physical testing plus verbal and written examinations. Some employers require you to complete a formal training program and then pass a certification exam. You may work as a prison counselor trainee for a year or more before you can become a prison counselor. In some states, you may be required to take a Civil Service test.

What Job Responsibilities Will I Have?

As a prison or corrections counselor, you'll work closely with prison officials, offenders and offenders' families. When new offenders arrive, you may have a role in explaining facility policies and procedures to them. You may perform initial and periodic evaluations of offenders that result in treatment, program or work assignment recommendations to administrators.

Case files on prisoners, prepared by you, may be reviewed by mental health professionals and prison administrators in making decisions about offenders' treatment, privileges or disciplinary action. Your reports are also typically forwarded to parole boards when offenders are eligible for parole, and you may be asked to testify regarding your findings or observations. While your caseload may vary based on where you work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) it could range from 20-100 or more (www.bls.gov).

Assisting offenders with preparing for life after incarceration is also part of your job. You will counsel prisoners on anger management or substance abuse if these issues contributed to their incarceration. You will develop education and employment training plans to help offenders make the transition from prison to parole, and you may have a role in devising rehabilitation programs for individual prisoners to follow after being freed.

How Much Will I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect salary statistics for prison counselors alone; however, the BLS does count probation officers and correctional treatment specialists as a group, and in May 2015, it reported that professionals employed in this field earned a mean annual salary of $54,080 (www.bls.gov). In addition, the BLS reported that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists in California earned the highest annual mean wage at $81,720, followed by New Jersey, where they earned an annual mean wage of $74,400, and New York, where they earned an annual mean wage of $66,830. According to the BLS, the projected change in job openings for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is 4% over the 2014-2024 decade.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in counseling, you might consider a career focusing on counseling individuals who are coping with disabilities or trying to overcome substance abuse problems. Substance abuse counselors need a bachelor's degree, while counselors specializing in rehabilitation for individuals with disabilities will need a master's degree.

Another option is becoming a parole or probation officer. These professionals work with released inmates to make sure they are properly adjusting to the outside world or keep track of a probationer's progress. Entry-level employment in this field generally requires a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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