Is a career as a prison social worker right for you?

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barbed wire around prison fenceThe prison and correctional system isn’t solely about removing individuals from society after their conviction for serious crimes. It’s also about providing them with the life skills, insight, and recuperative tools they need to improve and, ideally, be released from prison in better shape than when they entered. However, recidivism is quite common. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1 in 10 prisoners who were released from prison in 2005 ultimately found their way back into the criminal justice system within five years. Of these, nearly 30% were arrested for crimes related to violence either outside or within the state where they were previously incarcerated.

While there’s no quick fix to this situation, prison social workers play a key role in reducing recidivism by working in close consultation with other correctional social workers as well as mental health professionals. With an online Master of Social Work from Regis College, you can enter this highly rewarding line of work that can lead to many other opportunities in the social justice, social services, or criminal justice system.

Like any position, the responsibilities that go along with being a prison social worker aren’t for everyone, and as challenging as rehabilitating inmates can be at times, there’s more to this role than meets the eye. Here are some more particulars about this profession, which can ultimately help you decide if this is the professional path for you.


What is the job outlook like for prison social workers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), thousands of additional jobs in the correctional treatment specialty are expected to be added to the economy from 2018 to 2028. This is partially due to overcrowding within prison facilities.

The BLS reports there were approximately 1.5 million prisoners in state or federal correctional facilities in 2017. However, when you include the broader sense of the term “correctional facility” ― meaning private prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and Indian Country jails, among others ― the number is closer to 2.3 million, based on calculations from the Prison Policy Initiative.

Staying out of prison is ultimately a personal responsibility, but a prison social worker can offer insight, wisdom, intuition, and counseling that inmates can use to grow and develop.


Is a prison social worker career a good one?

Corrections social work as it pertains to social services is a field designed to help individuals become their best selves. If your professional desire is to be influential and provide guidance, becoming a prison social worker will offer you plenty of opportunities in this regard.

Perhaps the best way to know for sure is by understanding what they do week to week. The BLS details what some of these tasks may include:

  • Keep, maintain, and write detailed reports about inmates they are counseling and their progress
  • Develop or administer educational programs that can help inmates battle addictions
  • Provide insight on an inmate’s state of mind to judges or magistrates in court proceedings
  • Speak with friends or relatives of prisoners to glean more understanding and insight about the subject’s upbringing
  • Meet and coordinate with other professionals involved in rehabilitation efforts, such as clinical social workers and counselors specializing in mental illness
  • Work with probation officers to establish a treatment plan or schedule that ensures compliance with probation guidelines


How much do prison social workers earn?

Like other professions, the amount that the typical prison social worker stands to make largely depends on experience and the extent of their responsibilities. The median annual wage is roughly $53,000, according to the BLS. The top 10% in 2018 made close to $94,800 and the lowest 10% earned roughly $34,600. Those at the lower end of the earning spectrum tend to be those newly graduated or who may not have a graduate degree.


Do you need a criminal justice background to become a prison social worker?

While a criminal justice background certainly helps, it is not required for this role. Similarly, a master’s degree is generally not required to become a prison social worker specifically, but pursuing one is needed to become licensed. As a licensed clinical social worker, prison social workers can assess client psychological conditions and administer therapy.


Whether your work environment is a correctional facility, crisis center, or drug addiction recovery organization, an MSW from Regis College can broaden your professional horizons. For more information about this 100% online program, please contact Regis College today.


Recommended reading:

A look at hospice social work in the prison system

Explore a career as a clinical social worker




BLS – Social Workers

BLS – Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Prison Policy Initiative

Department of Justice

Bureau of Justice Statistics