Correctional Treatment Specialist: Career Guide

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The primary goals of prison systems in the US are public safety and inmate rehabilitation. At any given time, more than two million people are incarcerated in the US. Prisons generally offer educational and training programs for prisoners, many of whom will be eligible for parole at some point. Inmates work with correctional treatment specialists, or case managers, to find programs that will help them gain the necessary skills for success when reentering society.

Correctional treatment specialists are employed in a variety of settings, including state and federal correctional facilities, such as the Iowa Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Others work with probation and parole officers in offices outside of correctional institutions. Advancement generally depends on experience or advanced degrees. A PhD or master's degree in related fields such as psychology, law, or criminology is necessary for advancement to select positions.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Correctional treatment specialists identify and refer eligible offenders to appropriate programs as well as monitor inmates' progress. A case manager's primary goal is to help inmates develop the necessary skills to prevent re-offending (known as recidivism). Specialists help formulate release plans when offenders are released from custody and into community correctional supervision (probation/parole). Correctional treatment officers identify individuals who may be appropriate for such programs as early release, work release, weekend furloughs, and other special opportunities for low-risk inmates (those who are not considered security, safety, or escape risks). Due to prison overcrowding and the high arrest rate in the US, case managers tend to carry a large caseload.

Steps for Becoming a Correctional Treatment Specialist

The minimum requirement to become a correctional specialist officer is usually a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, human services, psychology, sociology, or criminology, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 Numerous accredited schools offer criminal justice degrees and criminology degrees for prospective correctional treatment specialists. Some employers require a master's degree to be hired. Case managers must also:

  • Be able to work in a secure custody facility/closed environment

  • Be at least 21 years of age

  • Have the ability to work with potentially violent individuals and with the general public

  • To become a case manager, you should:

  • Pursue a degree in criminal justice or a related field or acquire
  • experience in the field.*

  • Apply for a job as a correctional treatment specialist.

  • Be interviewed.

  • Complete a background check and a drug test.

  • Be hired as a case manager.

  • Participate in a training program and take a certification test.**

  • *See the specific job requirements for more details.
    **Depends on the state and its requirements.

    Correctional Treatment Specialist Job Training

    Specific training for correctional treatment officers depends on the organization for which they work. A minimum of one year working as a trainee may be necessary to earn an offer of permanent employment. In addition, state and federal employees may have to pass an exam upon completion of training.

    Other Helpful Skills and Experience

    Prospective correctional treatment officers should have strong communication skills (both written and oral) and be able to work with diverse groups. An understanding of the correctional system, community resources, and counseling issues may also be necessary. Candidates may have a hiring advantage if they have previous experience working in a correctional setting or dealing with individuals who have behavioral problems or drug or alcohol addictions.

    Possible Job Titles for This Career

    • Case Manager
    • Correctional Care and Treatment Worker
    • Correctional Counselor
    • Correctional Treatment Officer
    • Treatment Manager

    Correctional Treatment Specialist Salary and Job Outlook

    The salary and employment outlook for correctional treatment specialist positions is favorable due to high prison populations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for probation officers and correctional officers is $53,020, with anticipated job growth of 6% through 2026.1 Correctional treatment specialists are hired at both the state and federal levels; professionals working in federal facilities may have slightly higher average salaries due to the different classes of offenses for which inmates may be held at the federal level compared to the state level.

    Related Careers

    Interested in a career similar to a correctional treatment specialist? Check out these related careers:

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What type of schedule do correctional treatment specialists usually work?

    Specialists generally work full time and should be prepared to work overtime as needed. Prospective case managers should also be prepared to be on call, when necessary, and to answer calls from law enforcement at any time of the day or night.

    Is stress a concern for correctional treatment officers?

    Officers must deal with stress as a result of working with offenders, some of whom may not cooperate or who may be violent, and when facing deadlines for finishing required paperwork. Heavy workloads and higher-than-average work-related stress contribute to high rates of employee turnover in this career.

    How important is the role of correctional treatment officer?

    Correctional treatment officers play an integral role in the justice system. Officers must write in-depth reports on the prisoners with whom they work, including the officer's professional view of whether the prisoner is likely to commit another crime. These case reports are then given to the parole board.

    Is it acceptable for correctional treatment specialists to join a union?

    Yes. Union membership is typical for correctional treatment specialists due to the nature of the job.

    Additional Resources

    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists:

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