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Corrections Officer Career Guide

Corrections officers, also known as correctional officers and detention deputies, supervise individuals who have been arrested and are being held for trial or who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence in a jail, reformatory, or penitentiary.

Corrections Officer Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Corrections officers maintain security of the facility and may:

  • Conduct inmate and cell searches
  • Document inmates’ behavior and anything unusual that happens during a shift
  • Guard against prisoner escapes
  • Inspect all areas of the institution
  • Protect corrections officers from prisoner assaults
  • Review inmates’ incoming and outgoing mail
  • Stop fights between inmates

How to Become a Corrections Officer: Requirements and Qualifications

Prospective corrections officers may find employment with only a high school diploma or GED. However, most employers favor an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. For a federal corrections job, corrections officers must have at least a bachelor’s degree and three years of work experience in a related field such as supervision or counseling. Law enforcement or military experience may also be acceptable. Applicants for a position as a corrections officer must:

  • Be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on location
  • Be a US citizen
  • Have no felony convictions
  • Be in good health
  • Possess sound judgment
  • Have the ability to make quick, appropriate decisions
  • Pass a written exam
  • Agree to a background investigation
  • Submit to periodic drug testing
  • Be prepared to work in dangerous situations
  • Understand the high risk of injury in a correctional setting

Corrections Officer Job Training

Once hired by a corrections facility, correctional officers must generally complete on-the-job training. Due to the dangerous nature of the job, newly hired corrections officers typically participate in a training academy prior to completing on-the-job training that encompasses communication skills, interpersonal relations, firearms training, procedures for custody and security, self-defense, and guidelines and restrictions that are placed on them by the law.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Prospective correctional officers will benefit if they can make decisions quickly, know how to effectively negotiate, and have the physical ability to protect themselves from potentially violent inmates. Previous law enforcement or military experience may be advantageous when seeking employment.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Correctional officer
  • Corrections officer

Career Opportunities and Employers

Corrections officers who gain the necessary experience may be promoted to such advanced positions as sergeant, supervisor, or administrator. Corrections officers are typically employed by county, state, and federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Corrections Officer Salary and Outlook

In 2015 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of $40,580 for correctional officers.1 Typical benefits include health insurance, retirement benefits, and a uniform allowance. The demand for corrections officers is expected to increase slightly over the next decade, taking into account population growth, rising incarceration rates, and the retirement and transfer into other occupations of existing corrections officers. The BLS projects job growth for correctional officers of about 4% from 2014 to 2024.1

Youth Correctional Officers

Youth correctional officers work with minors incarcerated in a variety of federal, state, county, and local juvenile detention centers, including overnight holding or short-term facilities, various treatment centers, specialized work camps, and prison facilities. Ensuring the safety and security of the incarcerated minors is the main function of juvenile correctional officers. Officers must deal with emergencies while upholding the facility’s rules for offender rehabilitation and treatment programs. Juvenile correction officers must possess strong communication and interpersonal skills.

The job requirements for youth correctional officers can vary greatly based on state and local hiring guidelines. At a minimum, correctional officers in youth facilities will need a high school diploma and possibly one to two years of community college courses. Many facilities require candidates to have an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as law enforcement, criminal justice, psychology, or social work. Facilities often provide additional specialized training for newly hired officers.

Juvenile corrections officers oversee the youth housed at the facility and during any necessary transportation, provide assistance with therapy or counseling sessions, and dispense medications or other treatments. Youth corrections officers may also:

  • Complete reports
  • Perform checks for illegal drugs or contraband
  • Update offender records

Incarcerated juvenile offenders may be violent or disturbed. As a result, correctional officers must calmly handle a variety of situations, including escape or suicide attempts, fires, fights among inmates, and population riots.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What type of hours do correctional officers typically work?

Corrections officers generally work 40 hours a week. However, because they are needed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, prospective correctional officers should be prepared to work nights, weekends, and holidays rather than a traditional nine to five schedule. Overtime is common.

What are working conditions like for corrections officers?

Working conditions depend on at what type of facility an officer works as well as where in the facility an officer is assigned. Some prisons, for example, are overcrowded and do not have modern conveniences such as air conditioning. Corrections officers should be prepared to work indoors and outdoors in a variety of weather conditions, including the heat and the cold.

Are there risks associated with working as a corrections officer?

Yes. Inmates may be violent and as a result, corrections officers have atypically high rates of injury and illness. There is also significant emotional stress associated with this field of work.

What type of advancement opportunities are available?

Correctional officers with the proper qualifications, including experience and education, may earn promotion to such positions as warden or corrections sergeant.

Additional Resources

Online Corrections Degrees, Training, Programs and Schools

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References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Correctional Officers: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm