Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Corrections Social Workers

Corrections Social WorkerCorrections social work activities are diverse, which affords individuals in the field the chance to develop and use a broad range of skills.  Typically, social work as performed in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, is also referred to as criminal justice social work, correctional social work, or forensic social work.

Dr. Raquel Warley, PhD, LCSW, and an associate professor at California State University says: "Correctional social workers are qualified to work with people as offenders. These professionals may work within a correctional facility and provide mental health and concrete services to inmates. Otherwise, they work for outside agencies that serve to assist released offenders with indispensable resources for effective re-entry into the community”.

Corrections social workers might focus on rehabilitation, provide drug and alcohol addiction treatments, teach basic competency training and life skills, and/or offer therapy that helps offenders function after incarceration. They might work in the courts, rape crisis centers, correctional facilities, and police departments.

Over the past decade, social work has evolved and now plays a more significant role in the field of corrections.  The goal of enhancing and restoring social functioning in the corrections area, social workers help offenders correct and modify their behavior so they can reintegrate back into society.

Corrections Social Workers Career Options

As with most social work employment, education, certification, or licensing requirements can vary by state. Some states require successful completion of a Civil Service test prior to being considered for employment, and most employers require prior experience. Individuals may find that some employers will consider a master’s degree in social work in lieu of previous experience.

Dr. Raquel Warley, states, "There are a few ways in which one can develop expertise for this occupation. One option is to obtain separate degrees in criminal justice and social work. In that case, a bachelor's degree in each discipline would be adequate, unless the desire is to provide counseling services; a master's of social work degree is required for that. Either way, for the social work practicum, an internship wherein daily work activities involve inmates or former inmates is advisable”.

"The other choice is to major in one field of study and (officially or unofficially) minor in the other. Finally, the shortest alternative route is probably to enroll in a forensic social work program. However, the only accredited School of Social Work at the current moment that offers this option is California State University, Los Angeles."

Most employers require aspiring corrections social workers complete physical and psychological testing, plus show high scores on verbal and written exams.  Some employers will also require individuals complete a formal training program, as well as pass a certification examination. It is not uncommon to work as a corrections social worker trainee for a year or more, prior to becoming a corrections social worker.

Typical Employment Settings for a Corrections Social Worker

Corrections social workers are administrators and frontline staff in criminal justice settings. The criminal justice system includes public and private agencies, and correction social workers can be found in a number of settings, including:

  • State and federal correctional facilities
  • Police departments
  • Federal, state and city parole and probation agencies
  • Faith-based agencies
  • City and County jails
  • State and federal court systems
  • Community-based nonprofit service agencies
  • Primary health and behavioral health care systems
  • Victim services programs

Some of the primary responsibilities or job duties will include:

  • Interacting with prison officials, offenders, and family members
  • Evaluating offenders for work assignments and treatment programs
  • Preparing case files
  • Testifying at parole hearings
  • Helping prepare offenders for life after incarceration

Most corrections social workers are employed by government agencies that require a bachelor's degree, preferably in social work, psychology, criminal justice, correctional administration, theology, or another relevant field.

Learn more about how to become a corrections social worker.

Job Growth and Salary Available to Corrections Social Workers

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect data on corrections social worker employment, specifically. However, the BLS collects data on probations officers and correctional treatment specialists, which marginally includes corrections social workers.

In May 2013, the BLS reported that corrections social worker professionals earned a mean annual salary of just over $50,000, annually.  As most corrections social workers work in government, benefits and job security are advantages worth considering.

Also according to the BLS, corrections social worker jobs are projected to grow by 18 percent, which is in pace for all occupations. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), approximately 600,000 inmates in the US are released from prison annually and need the assistance of corrections social workers to help them navigate the social services system. Additional funding for correctional programs is also expected to have an impact on the number of available jobs for corrections social workers through 2020.

Ways a Corrections Social Worker Can Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate and Increase His or Her Salary

Although educational requirements for corrections social workers vary considerably by sector, these mental health professionals must typically earn a bachelor’s in social work (BSW). To increase job desirability, earning a master’s in social work (MSW) is prudent.

As Dr. Warley stated above, “For the social work practicum, an internship wherein daily work activities involve inmates or former inmates is advisable”.

Working with inmates and juvenile offenders can be difficult and frustrating. Many employers prefer candidates who possess training in criminal justice. It is also recommended to enroll in a certificate program in forensic social work to gain hands-on experience.

Related Social Work Education Guides

Attributes Employers Often Look for When Hiring a Corrections Social Worker

A few of the most important attributes a corrections social worker must have, include:

  • Strong communication
  • Empathy and patience
  • Management skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Compassion
  • Dedication
  • Ability to listen
  • Ability to interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds
  • Ability to work effectively in an often-stressful environment

To ensure success in this field, also requires developing some knowledge at the entry level and considerable knowledge at the experienced level in the following areas:

  • Group counseling techniques
  • Guidance tools and techniques
  • Understanding of the operations of a correctional facility
  • Methods of alleviating psychological, environmental, and social problems in various sectors
  • Knowledge of correctional facility regulations and procedures
  • Knowledge of the psychological and social problems at various settings
  • Knowledge of corrections treatment and rehabilitation programs
  • Knowledge of objectives of correctional social work services
  • Trends in the treatment of prisoners
  • Knowledge of underlying theories of social work as it relates to corrections social work
  • Ability to apply current methods in the treatment of prisoners
  • Ability to obtain and evaluate information as it relates to employment setting
  • Ability to establish an effective working relationship with individuals and groups

Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Corrections Social Workers