What is a Correctional Counselor Specialist?

Recidivism rates in the U.S. continue to be dismal. The Bureau of Justice hasn’t published fresh data in nearly 15 years, and it could be because it tells the story of a criminal justice system that for all the good it does still doesn’t have a silver bullet to prevent criminals from reoffending. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the system, of course, but it is a very tough fact that about two-thirds of prisoners (68%) are re-arrested within three years and more than three-quarters of prisoners (77%) are re-arrested within five years.

While the solution to high rates of recidivism is complex and multifaceted, preparing former inmates for success outside the prison walls is certainly a necessary component. Correctional counselors work toward this goal by creating a solid rehabilitation plan for former inmates and setting it into motion.

Correctional counselors, also often called correctional treatment specialists, case managers, re-entry specialists, transition specialists, and correctional treatment officers, work as part of the community corrections system, alongside parole and probation officers. Their job includes working with newly released inmates and parolees/probationers to develop release plans that are designed to prepare them for success. They may also work for nonprofit organizations focused on inmate rehabilitation.

What Does a Correctional Counselor Do?

Upon a prisoner’s release (either to society or to the parole system), correctional treatment specialists begin the process of working with the former prisoner to create a rehabilitation plan.

They begin by interviewing assigned inmates and assessing them through the use of questionnaires and other types of tests. They then create a detailed case report that includes their history, the terms and conditions of their release, and the plan of rehabilitation. Much of the work of correctional counselors involves identifying  appropriate resources, services, and programs and then connecting former inmates with them.

A rehabilitation plan can and does include any number of goals, such as identifying and securing mental health treatment, education, housing, and employment. Correctional counselors may arrange counseling, mental health evaluations, job placement, and substance abuse/mental health treatment for former inmates and also help them apply for social services, such as low-income housing, food stamps, and Medicaid.

Correctional counselors follow their clients’ progress, providing assistance throughout their rehabilitation period.

Correctional counselors always have one, primary goal: to help former inmates achieve success when reentering society. When inmates have the skills and assistance needed to reenter society, they are less likely to reoffend.

Within the correctional system, correctional counselors may also work to identify inmates who may be appropriate candidates for early release, work release, and other programs.

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How to Become a Correctional Counselor

To become a correctional counselor, you’ll need a solid understanding of the criminal justice and correctional system – one that is usually achieved through a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field. Correctional counselors also often hold degrees in sociology, the behavioral sciences, or human services.

To become a correctional counselor with the U.S. Department of Justice, you must hold a bachelor’s degree that includes at least 24 semester hours of coursework in the behavioral or social sciences. The following courses may satisfy the 24-semester-hour requirement:

  • Correctional administration
  • Counseling
  • Criminal justice
  • Government/political science
  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Sociology

To qualify for the highest paying correctional counselor positions with the Department of Justice, you must have at least three years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a PhD. The degree must be in corrections or a related field, such as criminal justice, sociology, psychology, counseling, or social work.

A course of training, followed by an examination, is often required for correctional counselors working for state and federal correction systems. In most cases, correctional counselors hired by the Department of Justice must complete a three-week training course (Introduction to Correctional Techniques) in Glynco, Georgia, upon being hired.

Salaries for Correctional Counselors

According to 2021 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists is $60,250, with the top 10% in the field earning an average salary of $99,090.

  • 25th percentile: $46,920
  • 50th percentile: $60,250
  • 75th percentile: $77,020
  • 90th percentile: $99,090

Correctional Counselors earned the highest mean salaries in the following states:

  • California: $94,650
  • Connecticut: $89,960
  • Massachusetts: $83,980
  • New York: $77,270
  • New Jersey: $75,040

The top-paying metropolitan areas for Correctional Counselors, according to mean salary, were:

  • San Jose (also includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara), CA: $121,380
  • San Francisco (also includes Oakland and Hayward), CA: $109,680
  • Bakersfield, CA: $101,210
  • Salinas, CA: $100,360
  • Sacramento (also includes Roseville and Arden-Arcade), CA: $98,600

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.