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A little less than one percent of our nation’s populace is behind bars, either in jails or prisons. While some of those inmates will probably be there for life, many others can be coached toward a better, more meaningful way of living upon release, if they have the tools.

What Is Correctional Counseling?

That’s where correctional counseling comes in. Counselors in correctional facilities work one on one with inmates to talk through their issues, find ways of coping with mental health conditions and, in future, and productive to society rather than breaking its laws.

Correctional counselors have two main goals: to help people change their mindsets and find better responses to environmental and interpersonal challenges than crime; and to reduce recidivism or the chance that a particular individual will commit a crime again.

By using the theories of psychology, correctional counselors are able to explore their patients’ thoughts, emotions and behaviors to see what really drives them. They can talk through these motivations with the individual, helping them see the connections between their thoughts and behaviors. They can also help them think through what a different life might look like, and how to achieve it once they’re on the outside.

Correctional Counseling Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists make an average of $50,160 per year or $24.12 per hour. The job outlook is a bit tough, with the number of jobs projected to grow at a rate of only 4 percent between 2014 and 2024. That means anyone graduating with a degree in correctional counseling needs a sparkling resume in order to land a job.

Even though you need a master’s degree to practice counseling, and can technically have a bachelor’s in any field, this is a compelling reason to get your bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as criminal justice.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Correctional Counselor

Correctional counselors engage in a wide range of duties and responsibilities. These may include meeting with prisoners in institutions one-on-one, teaching classes in life skills, evaluating prisoners to determine the best course of correction, providing job training, monitoring inmate behavior, conducting meetings with the family and friends of inmates, writing reports and maintaining case files.

In order to succeed in these duties, correctional counselors need:

  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Patience, compassion and the ability to listen without judgment
  • Sharp critical thinking and decision-making skills
  • Good people skills and intuition, especially as patients are not always forthcoming
  • Ability to deal with tough emotional situations
  • Recognition of when you need a break or to help yourself

It may take time to harden yourself to the rigors of working as a correctional specialist, but with the right foundational training and outlook, you can get there.

Degrees and Education Needed to Get Hired

In order to work one-on-one with patients in a counseling role, you must have a master’s degree in human services, psychology or a related field. However, in order to be admitted to a master’s program, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. That degree can be in a wide range of fields, but earning it in a niche related to law enforcement increases your chances of eventual employment and long-term success.

A Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, for instance, is the perfect foundation for correctional counseling. Upon earning it, you can apply to a master’s counseling program, earn your graduate degree, take the licensing exam and get to work helping inmates and society right away.