Corrections Counselor

In the United States, as of 2022, there are almost two million people incarcerated in prisons, jails, detention facilities, and correctional facilities. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, they are being held in 1566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2850 local jails, 1510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails. Others are being held in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals and prisons in U.S. territories.

Rehabilitation is vital for incarcerated people to leave negative habits and pasts behind and learn to live new, meaningful, fulfilling lives. Correctional counselors work as professional counselors with the incarcerated, helping them to gain tools that they will need to live a productive life once they leave incarceration.

Correctional counselors, who may also be referred to as prison counselors or correctional treatment specialists, work in correctional facilities on a one-on-one basis with inmates. They explore mental health concerns, mindsets, and emotional problems that can all lead to recidivism when they leave prison. Correctional counselors work to change the mindset of incarcerated individuals, for whom criminal behavior might have become a way of life. They help incarcerated persons to develop more positive responses to challenges they face in life. This helps to reduce the recidivism rate once they are released. 

Let’s explore the career of corrections counselor a bit further.

Job Duties of a Corrections Counselor

Corrections counselors apply psychological theories when working with inmates. Corrections counselors see these inmates as their patients, using the same techniques a counselor, therapist or psychologist would use with the general public. Corrections counselors delve into thoughts and emotions that drive an inmate’s behavior, helping them to discover those connections so that they can better understand them and subsequently make better behavior choices. They work in the correctional facilities, meeting individually with inmates and working on goals in counseling sessions. Some of the job duties of a corrections counselor may include:

  • Interviewing inmates, gathering information to develop their classifications
  • Teaching classes on life skills
  • Providing inmates with job training
  • Development and implementation of cognitive-behavior curricula
  • Facilitating support groups
  • Administering risk assessments and needs assessments
  • Evaluating inmates to determine counseling or treatment approaches
  • Development and implement care management plans for inmates with chronic mental health diagnoses
  • Consult with other providers as necessary in treating inmates
  • Reading and evaluating reports from other sources on inmates
  • Writing reports
  • Meeting families of inmates
  • Monitoring behavior of inmates
  • Maintaining case files 
  • Participating in case planning meetings in facilities and the community

Education and Training for Corrections Counselors

Some corrections counselors require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but most corrections counselor jobs will require a master’s degree. This degree should be in psychology, criminal justice, corrections, counseling, human services or a related field. 

Some jobs for corrections counselors will also require experience in counseling. Other corrections counselor jobs will accept a combination of education and experience. 

Skills a Corrections Counselor Should Have

The best corrections counselors possess the following skills:

  • Ability to work with challenging persons in potentially dangerous, high-pressure environments
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Good decision-making skills
  • Excellent critical thinking abilities
  • Good analytical skills, finding reasons behind behavior
  • Emotional resiliency 
  • Patience
  • Compassion for others

Qualifying for a Corrections Counselor Job

In order to work as a corrections counselor, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be at least 21 years old 
  • Have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • Have some experience in counseling
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Pass a drug test
  • Pass a pre-employment medical exam
  • Some corrections counselor jobs will require you to possess a firearm, so you must be legally authorized to do so (i.e., have no felony convictions)

Additionally, if hired, some corrections counselor jobs require you to complete peace officer training, in which you will learn laws of arrest, search and seizure, and the use of firearms and chemical agents. 

Salary and Jobs for Corrections Counselors

Corrections counselors are not classified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so an “official” national average salary is difficult to determine. From recent job postings for corrections counselors, however, we can gather some average salaries across the country (and also see the wide variety of correctional counselor positions that are currently available nationwide, as well as the educational requirements of each):

  • Correctional Counselor I, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, State of California
    • Salary: $6498 to $10,349/month (or approximately $77,976 to $124,188/year)
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Young Adult Corrections Counselor, NYC Health & Hospitals, New York City
    • Salary: $46,425 to $60,000/year
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Correctional Counselor 2, State of Tennessee
    • Salary: $36,636/year
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Corrections Casework Counselor, Virginia Nottoway Correctional Center
    • Salary: $37,042 to $57,786/year
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Substance Abuse Specialist III, Women’s Community Correctional Center, Oahu Island, HI
    • Salary: $4252 to $5178/month (approximately $51,024 to $62,136/year)
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Clinical Counselor, Turberville Correctional Institute, State of South Carolina, Clarendon County
    • Salary: $33,011/year
    • Bachelor’s degree preferred
  • Juvenile Court Counselor, District 12, Cumberland County, North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Fayetteville, NC
    • Salary: $36,677 to $62,092/year
    • Bachelor’s degree required
  • Psychological Services Associate, Corrections, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
    • Salary: $52,851 to $80,372/year
    • Master’s degree required
  • Corrections Counselor, Multnomah County, Oregon
    • Salary: $30.56/hour to $37.50/hour (approximately $63,564 to $78,000/year)
    • Bachelor’s degree required

Resources for Aspiring Corrections Counselors

If you wish to become a corrections counselor, these resources might be of help:

  • American Counseling Association (ACA) – This professional organization is a community of counselors of all types working in the U.S. Graduate and doctoral students as well as professionals may become members.
  • Purpose of Correctional Counseling and Treatment – This chapter from Correctional Counseling and Rehabilitation, Fourth Edition, published in 2000, describes the counseling process in correctional institutions and discusses its effectiveness versus psychotherapy.
  • Transcript: Working Within a Multicultural Community – This transcript of a podcast on working as counselors within a multicultural community has great information for correctional counselors, who deal with many different cultures, ethnicities and races every day.
  • Correctional Counseling – This e-text, provided by Pearson, has been designed specifically for students taking courses in correctional counseling, correctional treatment and correctional rehabilitation. 
  • Counseling in Jail – This article from Counseling Today provides a first-hand account from a corrections counselor of the work they do each day.