What is a Correctional Counselor?

A correctional counselor plays an important role in the criminal justice system by evaluating inmates and situations to ensure the safety of the inmate population. As a corrections employee, a correctional counselor will need special skills beyond those of other counseling practitioners in order to thrive in such a challenging environment like a jail or a prison. With the correctional population growing rapidly, and about 7 million people in the U.S. alone under the control of the state or the federal government, there is a growing need for more skilled correctional counselors in local, state and federal facilities, according to Jones and Bartlett. Read on and learn what you need to know about the roles and responsibilities of counselors in corrections to decide if this is the right path for you.

The General Responsibilities of a Correctional Counselor

Not all confinement facilities where people are sentenced to incarceration are the same. Some prisons and jails have more violent offender populations than others and more strict security designations. While the requirements of employees is based on the type of facilities that employees work in, most counselors have a general set of responsibilities that they will take on when they are hired regardless of the environment.

All correctional counselors assess the needs of an inmate and their risk of having conflicts and reoffending. It is common for a counselor to provide counseling services to offenders who have mental health issues and need treatment or other forms of interventions. A counselor will keep records of each session, track the offender’s progress in institutional programs and notify wardens if there is issues in criminal involvement. They may also make recommendations concerning transfers, security level decreases/increases and how to deal with a disciplinary hearing. As a corrections team member, the counselor will work closely with security personnel, doctors, and other members of the correctional system to improve policies and procedures.

What Skills Will You Need to Thrive as a Correctional Counselor?

It takes a very strong-willing professional to work with inmates who are being confined for months or years at a time. If you are pursuing a career in counseling, it is important to understand how a facility of confinement can affect your ability to intervene and treat inmates. Your primary duty as a counselor in this setting is to act as a guardian to prevent violence, diagnose serious issues, and influence the positive behavior in offenders.

You will need to have training in psychology or social work to understand human behavior in an environment like the one you will be working in. You will also need to be able to maintain a good relationship with corrections staff and the offenders so that you can gain their trust and they are willing to cooperate with you. It is very common to have to deal with ethical and professional conflict when you are working in a restrictive environment like this.

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It is common for many correctional administrators to put a larger focus on security at the facility than treatment and rehabilitation. You should understand this before you decide that this is the field where you would like to put your counseling degree to use. While it is a challenging environment, if you are strong and capable, you can make a difference in what a correctional counselor is and does.