Criminal justice social workers work closely with prison inmates and other people caught up in the criminal justice system. They may be asked to help these individuals navigate the legal system and ensure their rights are protected, or they may help newly released prisoners re-acclimate to society. Criminal justice social workers tend to be patient but firm individuals, who are capable of dealing with hardened criminals from all walks of life. Becoming a criminal justice social worker requires many years of training and formal education.
Consider the skills and personal qualities required for the job and decide if you have what it takes. Candidates need excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and should be able to relate well even to short-tempered, violent and depressed people. Knowing Spanish as a second language is also recommended.
Choose a college or university with strong sociology, psychology, criminal justice and other departments related to this field. Consider other important factors, such as distance from your home, cost of the program, size of the school, campus lifestyle and quality of employment services.
Earn a bachelor’s degree. Take classes related to criminal justice, constitutional law, social work, counseling and human psychology. Start thinking about what kind of facility or professional environment you want to work in, whether it’s a prison, community outreach center, government agency or other institution.
Gain professional experience by participating in internships at correctional facilities for juveniles and adults. Use these opportunities to figure out exactly what kind of criminal justice social work you want to pursue. Try to get some experience working in a controlled, supervised clinical setting with real criminals.
Consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as master’s or doctorate. Many criminal justice social worker positions require an advanced degree in a related discipline, such as criminal justice, counseling or social work. A master’s degree takes two years to complete, whereas a doctorate or Ph.D. usually takes at least six years. Both require extensive research projects and supervised clinical experience.
Fulfill the licensing, certification or registration requirements for criminal justice social workers in your state. Each state has its own requirements for social workers, and these requirements vary depending on the type of social work and level of responsibility. Take any required written exams and fulfill the minimum supervised clinical experience requirements, if you haven’t already done so. According to Education Portal, most states require at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.
Consider earning credentials from the National Association of Social Workers. These credentials can greatly expand your employment opportunities and lead to higher salaries. Renew your credentials every two years.