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How to Become a Counselor for Inmates

by Ashley Miller, studioD

If you enjoy working with others and want to make a difference in society, becoming a correctional counselor might be the right career for you. Correctional counselors are trained professionals who work with offenders in the criminal justice system. They provide counseling to inmates, develop treatment plans to prevent the recurrence of crimes and help inmates achieve specific goals during their incarceration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups correctional counselors under the broader job category of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. These workers earned an average yearly salary of $47,200 as of May 2010.

Skills Needed

Being a correctional counselor is not easy. Correctional counselors need to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for working with difficult or hostile clients. They must have excellent personal and professional boundaries and good stress management skill, due to the high stress environments in which they work. Additionally, they must have superior technology, written and oral communication skills and be able to effectively convey their ideas and messages to inmates and other professionals. Correctional counselors must also have good critical thinking and decision-making skills, as they need to assess the needs of inmates and decide on the best course of action for their specific situations.


Correctional counselors usually have at least a bachelor's degree in a criminal justice or mental-health related field, such as social work, sociology or psychology. Many correctional facilities prefer candidates who have master's degrees, especially if they do not have any previous experience in the field. Correctional counselors are not usually required to be licensed, although they may hold state licenses in their respective fields of study, if offered.

Training and Experience

In most cases, correctional counselors need to complete a specific course of training before they can begin work. They might also need to complete an apprenticeship in which they work alongside a qualified correctional counselor. Correctional counselors also need to pass a specific pre-employment battery of tests that includes oral, written and psychological examinations to determine fitness for duty, and complete a criminal background investigation. They usually need to complete a probationary period before they can work on a permanent basis.

Additional Information

The BLS reports that correctional counselors must be US citizens at least 21 years old, and, for federal positions, no older than 37. Correctional counselors usually have to agree to random drug and alcohol testing. In most cases, they need to have a valid driver's license. Correctional counselors may apply for voluntary certification through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to obtain the Certified Correctional Health Professional credential. To obtain this credential, you must pass an examination, submit proof of education and work experience and complete an application.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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