Become a Correctional or Prison Counselor – Education & Certification
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The demand for correctional counselors is growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) categorizes correctional counselors as “probation officers and correctional treatment specialists” and says that the demand for this career field is growing at a rate of 4 percent. This translates to about 8,100 openings for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists over the period of 2020 to 2030. While that may be slower than the rate of growth of other industries, the median wage for correctional counselors is close to $30 an hour.
Students who wish to become correctional counselors will find the best job prospects if they have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field and pass oral, written, and psychological exams. Correctional counselors may work in prisons, but they may also work in juvenile settings or with specific criminal populations in treatment settings.
Correctional counselors learn how the mental health of an incarcerated person relates to law and government, constitutional rights, and security procedures. An understanding of psychology and how humans react in a hierarchy of power would be an important tool to have. Another facet of the job would be the ability to relate to a diverse population. Being bilingual could be a big asset.
The correctional counselor will not only understand the criminal justice system, but they will also be able to apply theories of therapy and counseling to help clients better themselves. These professionals can help their clients develop an awareness of their criminal behavior, make amends, rehabilitate any physical or mental issues, and offer career counseling and guidance.
How to Become a Correctional Counselor
Requirements on how to become a correctional counselor vary by state. In some areas, there may be bachelor’s or master’s degree programs that provide a foundation to become a correctional counselor. In other areas, the educational requirements may be achieved through a certificate program.
Earning a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in criminal justice is a way to open many doors to this position. Since working with prisoners or others undergoing behavior counseling involves psychology, a background in psychology and social work will help to make potential students stand out to both school admittance officers and hiring managers.
Sometimes, criminal behavior goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse or other problem behaviors such as gambling addiction. Having experience with substance abuse and addictions can also increase a person’s chances of being hired.
The International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors is an organization of professional substance abuse and addictions counselors, corrections counselors, students, and counselor educators. The organization is concerned with improving the lives of individuals exhibiting addictive and/or criminal behaviors.
IAOCC is a division of the American Counseling Association. Students who wish to have successful careers as correctional counselors might benefit from joining the IAAOC, which bestows scholarships, grants, and awards for outstanding practitioners.
Another organization of note is the ACA, or American Correctional Association. With six levels of membership, from Associate to Executive Gold, members can benefit from discounts on professional development and access to resources.
Education of a Correctional Counselor – How Can You Qualify for ACA Certifications?
The American Correctional Association’s Corrections Certification Program (CCP) allows students to become Certified Corrections Professionals through completion of a self-study program. The ACA offers certifications for Adult Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Healthcare, with four certification categories for each. They also offer a Provisional Certification for a graduating student who has studied for a career in a correctional setting.
A Correctional Officer (CCO) or Correctional Officer/Juvenile (CCO/JUV) should have a high school diploma or GED and one year of work experience. A Correctional Supervisor (CCS) or Correctional Supervisor/Juvenile (CCS/Juv) should have an associate’s degree plus one year of work experience at the supervisory level. Those who do not have an associate’s degree need a high school GED plus one year of work experience at the supervisory level plus two years of full-time corrections experience.
A Certified Corrections Manager (CCM) or Certified Corrections Manager/Juvenile (CCM/JUV) should have an associate degree plus one year of work experience at the managerial level, or a GED plus one year of work experience at the managerial level plus five years of full-time corrections experience.
A Certified Corrections Executive (CCE) or Certified Corrections Executive/Juvenile (CCE/JUV) should have a bachelor’s degree plus one year of work experience at the executive level or a GED plus one year of work experience at the executive level, plus seven years of full-time corrections experience.
For the Healthcare Path, a Certified Corrections Nurse (CCN) must either be a licensed RN, LPN, or LVN plus have one year of work experience in correctional nursing. A Certified Corrections Nurse/Manager (CCN/M) must have an associate, bachelor of science, or master of science in nursing, or a three-year nursing diploma, plus an RN license plus one year of work experience in correctional nursing as a correctional nurse manager.
A Certified Health Services Administrator must be a licensed RN with three years of experience or have a bachelor of science degree in a health-related field or a bachelor’s degree in business or health management, or a master of science in administration, a master of public health, or a master of health services administration, with a minimum of three years of experience as an HSA.
Students can achieve a Correctional Behavioral Health Certification – Adult/Juvenile Correctional Officer (CBHC-CO) with the equivalent of one year experience in a prison, jail/detention facility, or community/work release center supervising and working with behavioral/mental health staff to care for inmates/offenders. They also must have a minimum of 40 hours of behavioral/mental health-related training.
To achieve a Correctional Behavioral Health Certification – Community Corrections Officer (CBHC-CC) credential, students must have one year of accumulated experience coordinating with community-based behavioral/mental health providers and/or court systems to supervise mentally ill offenders along with a minimum of 40 hours of behavioral/mental health-related training.
A Correctional Behavioral Health Certification – Behavioral Specialty (CBHC-BS) requires two years of accumulated experience providing structured activities, psycho-educational programs, nursing/medical support, recreational, and other supportive behavioral services in a mental health setting with at least one of the two years in a correctional or juvenile justice facility for inmates/offenders with behavioral health issues, plus a minimum of 40 hours of behavioral/mental health-related training.
Degree Programs for Correctional Counselors
An online degree at Concordia University – St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice plus a master’s degree in criminal justice leadership. Students can choose from POST licensure (Peace Officer Standards and Training) in Minnesota or non-POST licensure tracks.
At this school, criminal justice degrees offer seven-week accelerated courses. The BA in criminal justice includes 44 credits plus general education requirements. In order to be accepted into the master’s degree program in criminal justice leadership, students must be already working in a criminal justice field.
There are many other degree options for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For instance, Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, has an online BA in criminal justice. The program lets students choose between police academy training and a project-based learning experience combining seminar courses with internship opportunities at social and protective service agencies.
For police academy students, the 128-credit curriculum includes general education courses (42 credits), criminal justice/criminology core courses (15 credits), a social science research sequence (12 credits), police academy training program (up to 12 credits), and general electives. The non-police academy track moves students through an internship and project-based learning at social and protective service agencies to complete a 128-credit curriculum of general education courses (42 credits), criminal justice/criminology core courses (15 credits), a social science research and internship sequence (21 credits), criminal justice/criminology electives (three credits), and general electives (47 credits).
Depending on where students live or where they wish to work, the requirements could vary quite a bit. For instance, in Florida, the Department of Law Enforcement sets minimum standards for both police and correctional officers. Each individual department may then set additional standards. In Florida, officers must:
- Be at least 19 years old and a U.S. citizen
- Have at least a high school diploma or GED
- Be free of any felony convictions or dishonorable military discharges
- Pass the Basic Abilities Test
- Complete the Florida Basic Recruit Training Program
- Pass a background check
- Pass a physical examination
The Miami Beach Police Department recently added the requirement that new applicants have a college degree. Every police and sheriff’s department has its own requirements and prerequisites for being hired therefore it is best for the students to determine the requirements in the state or jurisdiction where they wish to work and live.
Supervised Hour Requirements for Correctional Counselors
Students who complete the American Correctional Association Corrections Certification Program must be able to demonstrate current relevant work experience. For students completing a degree program such as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a master’s degree in criminal justice leadership will need to complete the supervised hour requirements for a correctional counselor as set forth by that program.
Concordia University – St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota’s 120-credit BA in criminal justice requires no supervised hours. The 36-credit MA in criminal justice leadership requires a four-credit capstone course in which the student works with an advisor to synthesize previous coursework and research to apply the knowledge to their career field. The student will present and discuss the final capstone project.
The Maryville University online BA in criminal justice requires that non-police academy students complete a six-credit senior project capstone course which consists of a research project in the student’s field of study along with data collection, analysis, a written paper adhering, and a presentation. An internship and practicum follow, which require an approved field-based experience under the supervision of the course instructor. The practicum requires completion of 135 clock hours on site along with coursework relevant to the student’s field experience. Police academy students must complete a 12-credit police academy training program.
Licensure and Certification of Correctional Counselors
The American Correctional Association provides a Corrections Certification Program (CCP), which allows students to become Certified Corrections Professionals by completing a self-study program. The ACA offers certifications for Adult Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Healthcare, with four certification categories for each. Adult Corrections offers can be certified as:
- Certified Corrections Officers (CCO) – Individuals who work directly with offenders
- Certified Corrections Supervisor (CCS) – Mid-level managers who work with both staff and offenders
- Certified Corrections Manager (CCM) – Management staff who manage major units or programs within a corrections setting
- Certified Corrections Executive (CCE) – Individuals at the highest executive level who oversee the development of policy and procedures in agencies dealing with adult offenders.
Students in the Juvenile Justice program can be certified as:
- Certified Corrections Officers/Juvenile (CCO/JUV) – Individuals who work directly with juvenile offenders.
- Certified Corrections Supervisor/Juvenile (CCS/JUV) – Mid-level managers who work with both staff and offenders
- Certified Corrections Manager/Juvenile (CCM/JUV) – Management staff who manage major units or programs within a juvenile justice setting
- Certified Corrections Executive/Juvenile (CCE/JUV) – Individuals at the highest executive level who oversee the development of policy and procedures in agencies dealing with juvenile offenders.
Healthcare students can be certified in four categories:
- Certified Corrections Nurse (CCN) – Staff nurses, who work with both staff and offenders in a correctional environment
- Certified Corrections Nurse/Manager (CCN/M) – Management staff who work as nurse managers in a correctional environment
- Certified Health Service Administrator (CHSA) – Management staff who plan, direct, coordinate, and supervise the healthcare system
- Correctional Behavioral Health Certification (CBHC) – Correctional Officers, Community Corrections Officers, and Allied Behavioral Health Staff, who provide behavioral health services for mentally ill offenders. A minimum of 40 hours of behavioral- and mental health-related training is required for the examination.
Provisional Certification – There is one certification category for Provisional Certification:
- Certified Corrections Officer/Provisional (CCO/P) – A graduating student who has studied for a career in a correctional setting and/or Department of Corrections Training Academy graduating cadets who will work directly with offenders
Students who complete a college program will be licensed according to the licensure in their state. Carrington College, with campuses in Sacramento and San Jose, California, offers an associate degree in Criminal Justice that can be completed in as few as 16 months.
Correctional Counselor Licensure Renewal Requirements
Students who complete a correctional counselor program will be under the licensure renewal requirements of their state or jurisdiction. Students who pass the American Correctional Association provides a Corrections Certification Program (CCP) exam to become a Certified Corrections Professional or CCP must re-certify after three years. Re-certification credits vary based on their certification level:
- Correctional Behavioral Health Certifications – 12
- Correctional Officer, Juvenile Justice Youth Worker – 40
- Correctional Supervisor, Juvenile Justice Supervisor, Corrections Nurse, Security Threat Group Supervisor – 60
- Correctional Manager, Juvenile Justice Manager, Corrections Nurse Manager, Security Threat Group Manager, HSA – 80
- Correctional Executive, Juvenile Justice Executive – 100
For individuals with state licensure such as Correctional Behavioral Health Certifications, Corrections Nurses, or Security Threat Group Managers, documentation of state licensure renewal can be substituted for re-certification credits. Recertification for non-licensed individuals requires 12 hours of ACA-approved behavioral health-related training.
When earning recertification credits, CCPs may earn up to 50 percent of their required credits in one category. Certified Corrections Professions may earn recertification credits through at least the following categories:
- Training/Education Courses
- Discussion Group
- Committee/Task Force
- Critique or Assessment
- Additional Experience/Miscellaneous
What Do Correctional Counselors Do?
At a basic level, a correctional counselor provides social services to assist in the rehabilitation of law offenders of either adult age or juveniles, in custody or on probation or parole. Typical tasks include:
- Interviewing inmates to gather information
- Creating and evaluating reports
- Developing or modifying an inmate’s program
- Making determinations for parole suitability
- Interpreting and evaluating patterns of positive or negative behavior
- Conducting group or individual counseling sessions
- Placing inmates into behavioral modification programs and tracking their progress
- Maintaining order and dealing with emergency situations
- Utilizing de-escalation/communication/use of force techniques
- Enforcing state and federal laws, rules, and regulations
There are many different job responsibilities correctional counselors can have depending on where they work. Correctional counselors working with a juvenile population may have additional tasks related to ensuring that juveniles can access or complete schooling or maintain contact with their families. A corrections counselor who works with criminals on parole will have a different set of responsibilities than a corrections counselor who works in a prison facility.
How Much Do Correctional Counselors Make?
These numbers represent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2020.
Correctional Counselors – Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Number employed in the U.S.: 90,070
- Average annual salary (mean): $61,900
- 10th percentile: $36,990
- 25th percentile: $43,720
- 50th percentile (median): $55,690
- 75th percentile: $75,030
- 90th percentile: $98,510
Correctional Counselor Professional Associations & Resources
- The American Probation and Parole Association
- Discover Corrections
- The American Correctional Association
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
- American Jail Association
- Correctional Peace Officers Foundation
- United States Department of Justice
- Corrections USA
- American Probation and Parole Association
- Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
- National Institute of Corrections
- Association of Black Correctional Workers
- National Latino Peace Officers Association
- Chicano Correctional Workers Association
- National Asian Peace Officers’ Association
- Association of State Correctional Administrators
- National Partnership for Juvenile Services
- National Correctional Industries Association
- American Correctional Health Services Association
- International Community Corrections Association
- National Commission on Correctional Healthcare
- National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center
- National Criminal Justice Association
- Prison S.M.A.R.T.
- Academy of Correctional Health Professionals
- American Correctional Chaplains Association
- International Association of Correctional Training Personnel