Corrections Activities Specialist

Corrections Activities Specialists, also called Corrections Recreation Specialists, work at federal, state and local correctional facilities and plan, organize, and administer recreational programs and activities for inmates who are incarcerated within those facilities.  As of 2022, there are almost two million people incarcerated in the United States, in 1566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2850 local jails, 1510 juvenile facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails. It stands to reason that, although these people are incarcerated, they still need recreational activities to help them pass the time and as part of their rehabilitation. That’s where Correctional Activities Specialists come into play. 

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment. Many feel that incarceration without recreational activities would constitute violating this amendment, as well as prisoners’ rights. Correctional recreation can involve passive activities, low energy activities, hobbies, and special activities, as well as sports and exercise. The responsibilities of a Corrections Activities Specialist are to increase involvement and participation in activities by all inmates, by appealing to a wide variety of interests. Usually being a Corrections Activities Specialist does not involve law enforcement duties, although maintaining the security of the institution is always of the utmost importance to all employees. 

If the idea of becoming a Corrections Activities Specialist appeals to you, keep reading. 

Scene from a prison cell

Job Duties of a Corrections Activities Specialist

Corrections Activities Specialist are generally responsible for:

  • Coordinating recreational activities and programs, including but not limited to: developing sports leagues, scheduling equipment and field use, evaluating enrolled inmates for conflicts with other programs, coordinating participants, obtaining security clearances for equipment and custody of participants
  • Implementing recreational activities and programs, including but not limited to: directing and instructing inmates in skills and compliance with program, monitoring activities to ensure safety and health is maintained, instructing volunteers in correctional activity therapy, providing instruction and leadership to inmate participants
  • Making sure that security is maintained during activities and programs, including but not limited to: inspecting equipment and supplies that enter the facility to make sure there is no contraband getting inside facility, making sure all guests are supervised while in facility for recreational activities, escorting inmates on approved trips into community, ensuring proper tool control, conducting routing searches of inmates and facility, assisting security staff as needed
  • Documentation of inmate progress and participation in recreational activities and programs, including but not limited to: recording behavior of inmates, submitting input to inmates’ counselors, ensuring completion of security clearances for volunteers and participants, maintaining intra-institution movement data for inmates and knowing inmate locations at all times, maintaining inspection reports of facility, tools and keys, recording information on safety and security logs

Skills and Knowledge that a Corrections Activities Specialist Should Have

In order to function effectively as a Corrections Activities Specialist, you should:

  • Be able to work well independently
  • Be able to act as a leader in directing inmates
  • Know the value of self-discipline, recreational activity, physical exertion and how it all contributes to physical and emotional health
  • Have good interpersonal communication skills
  • Have good general knowledge of sports rules, regulations, equipment and skills
  • Have basic knowledge of theories, methods, practices and principles of organizing programs
  • Have basic knowledge of safety practices in sports and recreational activities
  • Be a good organizer and planner
  • Be able to motivate and sustain inmates’ interest in participating in activities
  • Be good at maintaining records
  • Be able to make and record behavioral observations
  • Be able to establish and maintain a schedule of events and activities while avoiding conflicts

Qualifying for a Corrections Activities Specialist Job

Corrections Activities Specialist job qualifications vary depending upon the size and governmental level of the correctional facility. At the federal level, Corrections Activities Specialists must have either a bachelor’s degree in recreation or a similar field, or three years of experience in recreation, or a combination of education and experience.  You must also be a U.S. citizen, pass a background check, and not have a felony on record.

If you are applying for a Corrections Activities Specialist job at the state or local prison level, requirements will vary. Most require some sort of college education, experience or a combination of the two. Background checks are usually routine with these positions as well.

Education and Training for Corrections Activities Specialists

At the federal level, Corrections Activities Specialist jobs may be at the GS-05, GS-07 or GS-09 level. 

  • At the GS-05 level, you must have earned a bachelor’s degree in a field related to recreation, or have three years of experience in recreation, or a combination of education and experience.
  • At the GS-07 level, you must meet the requirements for GS-05 plus have one year of specialized, full-time recreational experience
  • At the GS-09 level, you must meet the GS-05 requirements, plus have two years of specialized, full-time recreational experience

Bachelor’s degrees are usually necessary for most Corrections Activities Specialists jobs. These degrees may be in fields such as:

  • Recreation
  • Recreation Science
  • Health and Wellness
  • Exercise Science
  • Physical Education

Salaries and Jobs for Corrections Activities Specialists

Salaries for federal Corrections Activities Specialists start at the GS-05 level, which begins at $31,083/year and rises to $40,407/year. The next level of federal Corrections Activities Specialist jobs starts at GS-07, with salaries starting at $38,503/year and rising to $50,050/year. The highest level of federal Corrections Activities Specialists are at a GS-09 level, with salaries ranging from $47,097/year to $61,237/year. 

To examine other Correctional Activities Specialists salaries, let’s look at some jobs that were available in May 2022:

  • Recreation Specialist, Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility, Omaha, NE
    • Salary: $20.45/hour (or $42,536/year)
  • Corrections Recreational Specialist IV, Oahu Correctional Facilities, Oahu, HI
    • Salary: $61,200/year
  • Recreation Specialist, State of South Carolina, Greenwood, SC
    • Salary: $33,011/year
  • Wellness Education Specialist I, Florida Department of Correction, Avon Park, FL
    • Salary: $35,000/year
  • Activities Specialist II, State of Iowa, Coralville, IA
    • Salary: $52,874 to $80,496/year

Professional Certification for Correctional Activities Specialists

Professional certification for Correctional Activities Specialists is voluntary and not mandatory, but can help you to stand out among other applicants for the same job. Examples of certifications that Correctional Activities Specialists may have include:

  • Music Therapist Board Certified (MT-BC) through Certification Board for Music Therapists
  • Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) through the National Recreation and Park Association
  • Activity Professional Certified (APC) through National Certification Council for Activities Professionals 
  • Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) through National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification