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In the United States, 2.3 million people currently live behind bars. These incarcerated individuals need help and coaching to step away from their negative pasts and learn to lead meaningful, fulfilling lives when they get out of prison. A correctional counselor is a professional counselor who works with inmates to help them gain the tools they need to live a productive life after leaving prison.

What is a Correctional Counselor?

A correctional counselor, or prison counselor, works in correctional facilities to help inmates work through their issues. This counselor will work with inmates one-on-one to explore mental health concerns, mindset issues, and emotional problems that may lead to re-engaging with criminal behaviors.

A correctional counselor works to change the mindset of people who have a history of criminal behavior. By working on mindset, these counselors can train their clients to find more positive responses to the challenges they face in life, helping them avoid falling back into crime. This helps reduce the risk of re-incarceration after the inmate’s release.

What Does a Correctional Counselor Do?

A correctional counselor applies the theories of psychology to work with inmates. They view these inmates as patients and use the same techniques a counselor or psychologist would use with the general public. This includes diving into the emotions and thoughts that drive behavior, helping patients find those connections so they can understand them and make better behavioral choices. By understanding the connection between the thoughts and emotions and resulting actions, inmates are able to make positive changes in their lives.

Practically, a correctional counselor works within a jail or prison, meeting individually with inmates to reach toward goals. During counseling sessions, the counselor will ask questions and help patients work on their own mindfulness and mindsets. The goal is to assist patients in coming to their own conclusions about positive behavioral changes.

Correctional counselors may also:

  • Teach life skills classes
  • Evaluate prisoners to determine the best counseling or treatment approaches
  • Provide job training
  • Monitor behavior of inmates
  • Meet with the family of inmates
  • Write reports
  • Maintain case files

Because of the unpredictable nature of prison work, each day is a unique experience, so working as a correctional counselor is never boring.

Types of Correctional Counselor Jobs

Correctional counselors can take on many different job titles. Some common job titles include:

  • Probation officers – These professionals supervise and counsel people who are on probation and not in prison.
  • Parole officers – These professionals work with those who are out on parole after serving time in jail, working to help them reintegrate into society successfully.
  • Pretrial services officers – These professionals evaluate defendants to determine if they can safely return to normal life in society.
  • Correctional treatment specialists – A correctional treatment specialist helps develop rehabilitation plans for people to follow as they work towards rehabilitation and a return to normal life.

Job Outlook for Correctional Counselor Jobs

As long as there are prisons, there will be correctional counselor jobs. However, the rate of incarceration is remaining steady, which means there is not tremendous growth in this field. By 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 3 percent job growth for correctional counselors.

This estimate is slower than the average for most careers. This slow job growth means correctional counselor jobs can be hard to land. Quality education and a strong resume will be essential.

The average salary for correctional counselors is $53,020 per year. Those in the top 10 percent earn an average of $94,770. This is higher than the average pay for counselors and social workers in other areas. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a similar field is necessary to beginning this career path, but a number of entry-level positions as correctional counselors also require a master’s degree.

Skills Correctional Counselors Need

In order to succeed in a correctional counselor job, applicants need specific skills. First and foremost, they must be able to work with challenging individuals in potentially dangerous or high-pressure environments. Prison work is always a risk. In addition, they should have:

  • Strong organizational skills
  • Critical thinking abilities
  • Exceptional decision-making skills
  • Strong emotional resiliency
  • Good skills working with people
  • Strong ability to dig in and find the reasons behind behavior
  • Healthy dose of patience and compassion

Anyone working in a correctional facility needs to understand the unique challenges of this type of work. If you can handle the emotional challenges of prison work, you can find this a highly rewarding career field.

What Education Is Needed for Correctional Counselor Jobs?

As with any counselor position, you will need a high level of training to get a job as a correctional counselor. Counselors typically need a master’s degree in human services or psychology. Earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice or a counseling field can also help prepare you for work in the prison environment, but you will also need a master’s degree. A master’s degree in human services pairs well with the criminal justice training for this field. After finishing training, potential counselors will need to pass their state’s counseling license exam.

Is a Career as a Corrections or Prison Counselor Right for Me?

A career as a corrections counselor may be right for you if you can work well under pressure, are passionate about helping people achieve their highest potential, and are a creative thinker with strong intuition, then this field may be a good fit for your skills. Start your training today, so you can position yourself well to land a position as a corrections counselor.