Correctional counselors, also known as correctional treatment specialists or case managers, work with inmates toward their goals in rehabilitation. They help offenders develop relapse-prevention plans, steer them toward acquiring education, provide counseling and teach job skills. Although most correctional counselors work in state or federal prisons, some work in nursing and residential-care facilities treating inmates who are physically infirm. Still others work with offenders who have been released from incarceration and are referred by social assistance programs. Correctional counselors often work with clients who are dangerous.
Correctional counselors typically have a bachelor's degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology, or a related field. Many employers require job candidates to pass oral, written and psychological examinations to ensure that they can handle the high-stress aspects of the job. On-the-job training typically includes orientation to the institution’s rules and regulations, and safety and security considerations. Other special considerations involved in working in a prison include training on how to recognize when an inmate is carrying a concealed weapon.
Correctional counselors must have specialized knowledge in treating individuals who might be resistant, angry or manipulative. They must be able to work with inmates suffering dual-diagnoses issues, such as depression and heroin addiction. In addition, those who excel in the field typically have solid communication skills, can think objectively and critically, are calm under stress, can maintain good interpersonal boundaries and are emotionally stable. They are positive role models for inmates, behaving professionally and ethically.
Correctional counselors administer questionnaires to determine an inmate's strengths and weaknesses. They provide offenders with referrals to jail or prison programs, such as job training situations, education 12-step programs. They discuss these recommendations with offenders, working together to create a comprehensive relapse-prevention plan. They monitor inmates' progress toward achieving mutually agreed-upon goals; write reports regarding their progress; and use standardized risk assessments to determine an offender's likelihood of re-offending. Prior to an inmate's release, correctional counselors conduct meetings with inmates, their families and their friends to strengthen their support network.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual wage of $47,200 for correctional treatment specialists, who are included in the same category as probation officers, as of May 2010. Those in the lowest 10 percent made less than $30,920 per year, while the top 10 percent of earners in this category made $80,750 per year. Most correctional counselors work full time, but many put in longer than 40-hour work weeks because of expectations that they respond to emergencies after hours. The BLS projects 18 percent job growth between 2010 and 2020, which is slightly higher than the rate projected for all other occupations.
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images