Carlson began her career working as a deputy jailer at the Crittenden County Detention Center in 2007. She was promoted through the ranks to lieutenant, overseeing the class D program. In 2009, Carlson transferred to the Department of Corrections as an office support assistant II at Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP). In January 2011, she was promoted to transfer coordinator at Western Kentucky Correctional Complex. Later that year Carlson was promoted to accreditation manager in the procedures office at KSP. She was promoted in 2013 to unit administrator I and served as the reentry coordinator for the institution. In 2015, Carlson was reassigned to three cell-house, a 156-bed restricted housing unit. In 2016, Carlson was promoted to program administrator in the Classification Branch at Central Office. In February 2017 she transferred to Blackburn Correctional Complex as a unit administrator II.
During her career, she facilitated the process of migrating KSP toward an electronic file system for American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditation. In 2013 this move enabled the 125-year old institution to receive the highest ACA accreditation score in its history.
Carlson is a 2014 graduate of Mid-Continent University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and counseling. In 2016, she received her master's degree from the University of the Cumberlands in justice administration. She is certified as an auditor for the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and is a 2013 graduate of the Commissioner's Executive Leadership Program. She is a member of the Kentucky Council on Crime and Delinquency (KCCD) and the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation.