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Students looking to enter the workforce as a corrections counselor should consider the strength of their judgment, resourcefulness, interpersonal and negotiating skills, and their physical fitness; those who excel in these areas will likely make successful corrections counselors.
Corrections counselors are often the first people to give advice and guidance to criminals; this assistance is typically concerns actions that the offender can take to avoid breaking the law and to become a productive member of society. Also called “correctional treatment specialists,” those in this rewarding role work with criminals to cultivate strategic rehabilitation, training and education plans that help them earn a GED or enroll in college classes. This critical planning helps offenders acquire the knowledge and skills they need to get jobs and reenter society. Corrections counselors may also work with social service agencies to provide mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Specific job duties for corrections counselors include:
• Imposing rules and keeping order within jails or prisons
• Overseeing behaviors of inmates
• Inspecting facilities, including cells, to ensure they meet sanitary standards
• Searching inmates for contraband
• Compiling reports on inmate conduct
The salaries of corrections counselors from state to state will vary. Factors like experience and size of the department for which a person works also come in to play – however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for correctional treatment specialists in 2012 was $48,190. The growth in this career is expected to show little to no change until the year 2022 due to limits on state funding for corrections. That said, mandatory sentencing guidelines are undergoing changes in most states, so the number of prisoners being released from correctional facilities into counseling programs is on the rise.
After a period of service as a corrections counselor, successful counselors can look to advance to other careers. This includes being promoted to a correctional sergeant or into supervisory or administrative positions, such as warden.
Almost all corrections counselors work for federal, state and local governments in prisons and jails. Day-to-day work conditions change frequently, and counselors should be prepared to work both indoors and outdoors. Some jails and prisons are temperature controlled and clean; others lend to more unpleasant working conditions in that they are old, overcrowded, hot and noisy.
Being physically fit is important for corrections counselors – some are required to stand on their feet for long periods of time. It’s typical for a corrections counselor to work an eight-hour day, five days per week, but they will be expected to work in rotating shifts due to jails and prisons needing round-the-clock attention.
A bachelor’s degree is required to become a corrections counselor. Earning a B.A. in Criminal Justice or an M.A. in Criminal Justice Leadership is a fine way to open doors to this position. Coursework in psychology and social work will make a candidate more attractive in the eyes of a potential employer. Having experience as a substance-abuse counselor or social worker can also increase a person’s chances of being hired.
Newly hired corrections counselors must complete training at the facility where they’re employed, followed by a certification exam. Most states require applicants must be 21 years old, but not yet 37, and have a clean criminal record. Candidates must also submit to drug testing.