How to Become a Prison Counselor

Overview

A prison counselor, also known as a correctional counselor or correctional treatment specialist, attends to the psychological needs of prison inmates. If you are interested in entering the world of prison counseling be prepared to testify in court as to the emotional and psychological health of the inmate. The judge may ask you whether or not the inmate is a danger to himself/herself and/or to others.

As a prison counselor you will not only work with law enforcement, social service workers, the inmate’s family, parole and probation officers, victims, chaplains, etc. to determine if the inmate is ready to be released from prison, you will also help him/her transition back into everyday life.

If you are interested in becoming a prison counselor, you will need to complete certain educational, certification and/or licensure requirements.

Educational Requirements

If you are interested in becoming a prison counselor, you will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, criminal justice or a related field. Although a master’s degree is normally not required to be a prison, you may be asked to obtain one, if you do not have previous experience in the counseling.

While attending your undergraduate program, you should enroll in the following classes (if they are offered): abnormal psychology, general psychology, criminal investigations, substance abuse treatment, social work, counseling, human development and pre-trial services.

Training, Internship and Certification

Once you have successfully completed your educational requirements, you will need to sign-up for additional training. During training you will learn how to effectively counselor individuals in a correctional setting. You will be taught how to handle challenging and potentially dangerous situations and hostile and/or threatening inmates.

Moreover, before you are officially recognized as a prison counselor, you will need to complete one-year paid internship at a correctional institution. During this time you will be on probation, but once you have completed the internship you will be eligible for a permanent position as a prison counselor. In addition, once you have completed training, you will be eligible to sit for the certification exam.

Employment

Once you have successfully completed your educational, training, internship and certification requirements, you will have an opportunity to specialize in a certain area. For instance, you may decide to counsel substance abusers, child abusers, rapists, murders and/or domestic violence perpetrators.

In order to work at correctional facility you will need to be at least 21 years old, but no older than 37 (bls.gov). You must also have a clean background check (no previous arrests, convictions or felonies). In addition, you will need a valid driver’s license. Furthermore, you will be required to submit to a drug test.

Job Duties

As a prison counselor, you will be required to perform the following duties:

  • Evaluate inmates to determine the most effective course of treatment
  • Provide inmates with rehabilitative resources (housing, counseling and employment) once they are released from prison
  • Assess inmates using psychological tests
  • Discuss treatment options with the inmates
  • Develop a treatment plans for the inmates
  • Supervise inmates and monitor their emotional and psychological health as well as their progress
  • Lead regular meetings with inmates and their friends and family members
  • Document the progress of the inmates through written reports and case reports
  • Determine if the inmates are ready to be released from prison

Salary Prospects

As a prison counselor, you can expect to make approximately $48,000 (average) per year (bls.gov). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), if you fall in the lower 10% you can expect to earn approximately $31,000 per year, while if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $81,000 per year. You will more than likely work full-time with overtime.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for those entering the field of prison counseling looks good. The field of prison counseling is expected to increase 18% by 2020 (bls.gov). As the prison population increases, the need for prison counselors will also increase. In fact, in the past two decades the length of mandatory prison sentences has decreased allowing for shorter prison terms. This has led to the need for more prison counselors to help transition inmates back into the community. In addition, more and more individuals are being ordered to attend counseling as part of their prison sentences. This has also increased the need for prison counselors. It is important to note that this occupation does have a high turnover rate due to the stress, heavy workloads and low pay.

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