What is a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
A correctional treatment specialist is a human services worker that aims to provide social services to people that are incarcerated. It’s easiest to think of correctional treatment specialists as facilitators.
Their goal is to help people in prison to reintegrate back into society as smoothly and as successfully as possible. To do this, they act as a liaison between the corrections system and various social services agencies. This enables them to help people in prison develop the connections and find the resources they need for making the transition to independent living.
What Does a Correctional Treatment Specialist Do?
A correctional treatment specialist has a variety of job duties that help fulfill the goal of preparing people that are incarcerated for reentry into society. Some of the most common job duties are listed below. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of job duties.
It is often one of the first tasks a correctional treatment specialist takes on – interviewing their client. When inmates reach a certain point in their sentence, the work begins to help them transition back to society. To do that, correctional treatment specialists interview and evaluate their clients on a number of measures – job skills, social skills, emotional stability, willingness to commit to the process, and so forth. It is often this interview process that informs what happens and when from that point forward.
Counseling is always a large part of a correctional treatment specialist’s job. This is not always the typical behavioral or emotional counseling, either. In many cases, these workers also provide job counseling and skills training.
These types of counseling services are just as important because they help prepare inmates for transitioning out of prison. Usually, behavioral and emotional counseling is done by psychologists, but correctional treatment specialists commonly assist in the counseling process or handle it themselves.
Providing people that are incarcerated with the tools they need to succeed is a significant part of this job. In some cases, this might involve direct education, such as working one-on-one with a client to teach them how to balance a checkbook.
In other cases, it might be a facilitative approach, such as finding appropriate tutors for assisting an inmate with getting their GED. There is also an educational component involved in the transition process. That is, correctional treatment specialists will coach their clients on the steps they need to take to prepare for release from prison.
As a facilitator between correctional institutions and various other stakeholders, it often falls on correctional treatment specialists to coordinate a range of services for their clients. This usually involves contacting the appropriate service providers and scheduling times for them to work with the inmate.
For example, a correctional treatment specialist might coordinate psychological testing for a client, counseling for a client, and arrange for a job coach to meet with them to discuss potential employment opportunities after their release. Likewise, correctional treatment specialists work closely with probation and parole to ensure the handoff of the inmate to those institutions is as smooth as possible.
As with many occupations in the social services field, there is a lot of paperwork associated with this job. Correctional treatment specialists must document everything, from the meetings they have with their clients to the services they’ve arranged for their clients, to their clients’ progress toward goals of reentry.
What is a Juvenile Correctional Treatment Specialist?
A juvenile correctional treatment specialist carries out the same functions as a correctional treatment specialist. Of course, the difference is that they work with juvenile offenders. Since their clients are children, juvenile correctional treatment specialists have an especially difficult job. Not only are they responsible for helping their young clients reintegrate into society, but they must also ensure that their clients have the resources they need to learn and grow while they are in a correctional facility.
Being incarcerated is difficult no matter the age, but it can be especially rough on kids. As such, juvenile correctional treatment specialists have a very important role of devising strategies that will support young offenders while they are in jail and as they transition back to society.
What are the Requirements to Become a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
In most situations, correctional treatment specialists must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Fortunately, there are many different undergraduate degrees that can lead to this career, including criminal justice, psychology, social work, and correctional rehabilitation.
In most cases, undergraduate programs require students to complete around 120 semester credits. This typically takes about four years to complete if you attend school full-time. Undergraduate programs offer a basic level of instruction – most classes are survey courses, which means the subject matter is quite broad, but doesn’t go too far into detail. That is, until you start your major studies.
About half of undergraduate credits are general education requirements like language arts, science, and humanities. But the other half are specific to your major. These classes go much more in depth than survey courses and help you develop specific knowledge and skills you’ll need for most careers in your field of study.
Some correctional treatment specialists go on to get their master’s degree after they graduate with their bachelor’s degree. Master’s degrees don’t take as long as undergraduate degrees – anywhere from one to three years is common – but they go much more in depth.
For example, in an undergraduate social psychology class, you might get an introduction to the field of social psychology. But in a master’s-level social psychology class, you might focus on specific aspects of the field, like correctional rehabilitation.
Another difference between undergraduate and graduate studies is that graduate programs often have stricter admissions requirements. For example, to apply to graduate school, you might need to have 3.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale, satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and multiple letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors.
Though not as common, some workers in this field get their doctorate. This is the terminal degree in the field and can take anywhere from three to five years or more to complete.
Doctoral programs are usually focused on very specific studies. In fact, much of a doctoral program is spent doing independent research and developing your dissertation, which must be defended to a dissertation committee.
Though it takes more time (and money) to get a master’s or doctorate, the reward is that you can command a higher salary and might qualify for higher-level positions in the field.
In some cases, special training may be required. This requirement is usually contingent upon several factors like the job title, your educational background, and your work experience.
For example, if you’re just out of college with a bachelor’s degree, you might be required to shadow a more experienced corrections treatment specialist as part of an introductory training phase. As another example, you might be required by the state in which you work to take continuing education requirements. In some employment settings, getting a certification in corrections treatment might be required as well.
What Do You Learn in a Correctional Treatment Specialist Degree Program?
As noted earlier, there are many different pathways you can take to become a correctional treatment specialist. But whether you major in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, or something in between, there are some common learning targets you can expect to fulfill. These include, but are not limited to:
- Counseling techniques – Workers in this field must be able to provide support to clients who might need emotional, behavioral, mental, or practical assistance in order to meet their treatment goals.
- Criminology – Since correctional treatment specialists work exclusively with incarcerated individuals, they must have an understanding of why people commit crimes and how to effectively treat people that are incarcerated.
- Psychology – Having an understanding of the human psyche and why people behave the way they do is critical to fulfilling the duties of this job.
- Sociology – It isn’t just important to learn why individuals behave the way they do. Instead, workers in this field need to study sociology, or why groups of people behave in certain ways and how social groups can influence how an individual acts.
- Correctional practices – In most cases, correctional treatment specialists work within prisons directly with the population of inmates. One must know and understand correctional practices to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.
- Constitutional law – Most educational programs that prepare students for a career in this field include coursework on Constitutional law. These classes focus on the rights and freedoms guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and also give students a chance to learn the case law that underpins those rights.
- Courts and sentencing – Correctional workers should be familiar with how the judicial system works. Additionally, they should have a working knowledge of sentencing procedures and guidelines for crimes committed in the state in which they work.
- Criminal justice – Courses in criminal justice examine many things related to crime. This includes theories as to why people commit crimes, proposals for reducing crime, strategies for helping incarcerated individuals, and evaluating society’s role in administering justice.
- Criminal justice administration – These courses focus on the management of correctional programs and how to administer them effectively to inmates in order to enhance their ability to rehabilitate and be released.
What Skills are Needed to be a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
Like any job, to be successful in this line of work you need to have the right mix of hard and soft skills. You also need to have the right personality traits and personal qualities.
Below is a list of eight traits you need to be a correctional treatment specialist. This is not a comprehensive list, but it does include some of the most common skills you’ll need:
- Understanding of the corrections system – This is a hard skill that you’ll learn in college courses and on the job. Knowing the policies and procedures that govern your work is essential to doing your job well.
- Understanding of counseling techniques – Correctional treatment specialists should have a strong grasp of common counseling techniques. Though they aren’t considered counselors, workers in this field do spend a lot of time providing advice, guidance, and resources to their clients.
- Ability to organize multiple resources – This job requires that you can research, obtain, and direct a variety of different resources for your client. You must be able to organize these resources in a way that makes the transition for your client back to society as smooth as possible.
- Interviewing skills – You should be comfortable and skilled at asking clients questions about their crime, their family history, their mental health, and so forth. Being able to effectively glean information from clients allows you to do your job with a greater degree of success.
- Desire to help others – This is a thankless job without a lot of accolades. Having the desire to help others without necessarily being recognized for your hard work is a must.
- Patience – Correctional treatment specialists need to be patient with their clients, co-workers, and with the process of helping their clients transition back to society. It can be a long process with setbacks, and patience will help you stay the course.
- Emotional stability – In some cases, your clients will have mental, physical, and emotional difficulties that require you to be a stable force in their lives. Likewise, you’ll often work with people that have committed terrible crimes. Being able to see past the crime and the emotions of knowing they hurt others is essential.
- Communication skills – Correctional treatment specialists should be able to effectively communicate in verbal and written form to various audiences, including inmates, correctional workers, parole board members, families of inmates, and community stakeholders.
What Tools and Techniques are Used by a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
In order to have the greatest impact on their clients, correctional treatment specialists have to use various tools and techniques. Below is a partial list of some of the most common tools and techniques you might use in this career.
- Motivational interviewing (MI) – This is a counseling technique that is used to determine a person’s desire for change and helping to elicit that change.
- Career counseling – This job requires you to help clients understand the skills and resources they have (and ones they might need) to find employment upon their release.
- Therapeutic techniques – Many correctional treatment specialists find it beneficial to have a working knowledge of therapy techniques such as talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and group therapy.
- Interest inventories – Interest inventories are common tools used in this line of work. They help clients identify their personal interests that might help them find direction for their future lives.
- Personality tests – Knowing how to administer personality tests can be helpful for identifying traits that might help (or hinder) clients as they progress toward their release.
- Intelligence tests – Administering intelligence tests can give you a wealth of helpful information regarding how to help plan a course of action for transitioning an inmate back to society.
- Video and audio equipment – Some correctional treatment specialists use video and audio recordings as a tool for tracking the progress of their clients.
- Computers and software – Since this job requires a ton of notetaking and record-keeping, you’ll need to have a computer and appropriate software.
What are the Pros of Being a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
- Make a positive impact – This job allows you to help people in need and have a significant, positive impact on their future.
- Reduce recidivism – Many parolees end up back in prison, but the work you do to help inmates make a successful transition back to society can help reduce the number of parolees that are arrested and jailed again.
- Excellent benefits – Since correctional treatment specialists are employed by state governments, they typically enjoy excellent benefits, including robust retirement plans and health insurance.
- Stable career – While some careers experience fluctuations in job availability, correctional careers tend to be fairly stable over the long-term.
- Predictable schedule – You can typically enjoy a predictable work schedule, often Monday-Friday 8-5.
- Low educational threshold – In many cases, you can find employment as a correctional treatment specialist with no more than a bachelor’s degree.
- Paid training – Workers in this field have to undergo significant training, which can be a disadvantage. However, since the training is paid, you can earn extra money.
What are the Cons of Being a Correctional Treatment Specialist?
While there are plenty of advantages of being a correctional treatment specialist, there are some distinct disadvantages.
Though each job and work setting is a little different, most workers in this field cite the following as common complaints about this job:
- High-stress work – Working as a correctional treatment specialist is not for the faint of art. You will be asked to work with individuals that could have been very dangerous in their past. Likewise, there are many different responsibilities that you must fulfill with a lot of deadlines that can increase job-related stress.
- Uncomfortable work environment – Jails and prisons aren’t the nicest places to work. The dreary and drab environment can be a bit of a drag on your mood. There is a potential for violence behind the prison walls as well.
- Low pay – This is not a job you get if you want to be rich. As discussed below, the pay scale for this job is pretty wide. But there are many higher-paying careers you can pursue with a similar educational background.
- Thankless work – People that work in this field don’t do it for the accolades. Many of your clients will be extremely appreciative of your help. Others won’t. In fact, some clients may be downright oppositional as you try to help them transition back to society.
What is the Job Outlook for Correctional Treatment Specialists?
The job outlook for correctional treatment specialists is not especially good over the next few years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the growth rate for this career is predicted to be just 4 percent through 2030. This is two percent slower than what is predicted for all occupations over the same period.
Part of the reason for the sluggish predicted growth is concern about budgets for prisons, probation, and parole. If enough funding is not available, some programs have to be cut, and unfortunately, positions in the corrections treatment space can be among the first to go.
At the same time, the BLS predicts that growth will be steady as the United States tries to incorporate more community corrections into the mix.
Community corrections involves supervising “inmates” in the community rather than putting them behind bars. Not only is this a less expensive option, but it can also prove to be beneficial from the standpoint of keeping offenders integrated into their communities rather than trying to help them reintegrate after a period of incarceration.
How Much Does a Correctional Treatment Specialist Make?
As of May 2021, according to the BLS, correctional treatment specialists make an average of $60,250 per year. This works out to about $28.97 per hour.
There are several factors that influence how much you can earn in this field. One important factor is the state in which you work.
There is significant variation in income within states, as some cities offer higher pay than others. But, by and large, if you want to maximize your earning potential, getting a correctional treatment specialist job in one of these states is likely to be a good bet.
What Professions are Similar to Correctional Treatment Specialist?
A correctional officer is responsible for monitoring inmates in jails and prisons. This job typically doesn’t require any college education but requires extensive training before starting. Though the job can be dangerous, it provides stable income and excellent benefits.
A probation officer is responsible for overseeing the progress of probationers and parolees after they are released from prison or their sentence has been handed down by the courts. They monitor the progress of their client towards specific goals, administer drug tests, do home checks, and help coordinate resources that are helpful for the parolee or probationer.
Police officers protect and serve the general public by enforcing laws. They do so through various means, including patrols of neighborhoods, responding to calls for service, interviewing witnesses and potential subjects, and investigating crimes. Some police officers get a college degree before going to the police academy, but this is not always required.
Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors work exclusively with clients that have a history of abusing drugs or alcohol. Traditional therapy techniques are often used to help the client deal with the stressors of addiction. Often, substance abuse counselors also work with friends and family of their client to help build a strong network that can support the client as they strive to get clean.