Corrections Officer Job Description & Career Outlook
Corrections officers, also known as correctional officers and detention deputies, are responsible for supervising people who either have been arrested and are being held for trial or have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence in a jail, reformatory, or penitentiary. Corrections officers are responsible first and foremost for maintaining security of the facility and to guard against escapes by the prisoners, assaults between prisoners and assaults on other corrections officers by prisoners, and general disturbances in the corrections setting.
Occasionally, corrections officers conduct searches of inmates and their cells. They typically inspect all areas of the institution for safety and security; they may also inspect inmates’ incoming and outgoing mail. They only have these law enforcement responsibilities inside the location where they work; they do not have any law enforcement responsibilities out in the community, as do police officers. Corrections officers document the happenings inside the institution consistently; it is important that they communicate information about the behavior of inmates and anything unusual that happens during their shift. Corrections officers may work either armed or unarmed, depending on the institution’s security level. A corrections degree from an accredited school will help set you up for success as a corrections officer.
Corrections Officer Job Requirements
For people who want to become a corrections officer, a high school diploma or GED is required although most employers favor an associate’s or 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 might also meet the requirements for this job. Applicants for a position as a corrections officer must be at least 18-21 years old (depending on location), be a U.S. citizen, and have no felony convictions. Once hired, corrections officers participate in a training academy and then have a period of on-the-job training. This training includes communication skills, interpersonal relations, firearms training, procedures for custody and security, self-defense, and guidelines and restrictions that are placed on them by law.
Working in a correctional facility can be a challenge. Corrections officers must be in good health and have sound judgment and the ability to make quick, appropriate decisions. They may be required to pass a written exam, go through a background check, and submit to periodic drug screenings. Corrections officers work in potentially dangerous situations; this occupation has a high rate of injuries that occur on the job.
Corrections Officer Salary and Benefits
As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $38,970 for correctional officers.1 In addition to salary, typical benefits for corrections officers include health insurance, retirement benefits, and a uniform allowance.
Corrections Officer Career Outlook
Job opportunities in corrections in upcoming years appear fair. The demand is expected to increase slightly over the next decade, taking into account population growth, rising incarceration rates, longer sentences for criminals, and the retirement and transfer into other occupations of existing corrections officers. The BLS projects job growth for correctional officers to be about 5% from 2012-2022, slower than the average occupation.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 one of the main functions of juvenile correctional officers. Officers must deal with any emergencies, while upholding the facility’s rules, guidelines, offender rehabilitation and treatment programs. The young offenders under incarceration are not all violent, convicted criminals; juvenile correction officers must show strong communication and interpersonal skills when dealing with their young charges.
The job requirements for youth correctional officers can vary greatly, based on state and local hiring guidelines. At the very least, correctional officers in youth facilities will need a high school diploma, and possibly one to two years of community college courses. Many facilities require that a candidate have an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as law enforcement or criminal justice, psychology or social work. Often, facilities will provide additional, specialized training for newly hired officers.
The tasks performed by juvenile correctional officers include overseeing the youth housed inside the facility, and during any necessary transportation. They provide assistance, as needed, with therapy or counseling sessions, and the dispensing of medications or other treatments. Completion of various reports, and the periodic updating of offender records are other common duties. Correctional officers will also be involved in routine checks of the facility for illegal drugs or contraband items. Incarcerated juvenile offenders may be violent or disturbed, and the correctional officers overseeing them must calmly handle a variety of situations as they arise, including escape or suicide attempts, fires, fights among inmates, or population riots.
Online Corrections Degrees, Training, Programs and Schools
University of Phoenix
- B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration
- B.S in Criminal Justice Administration/Cybercrimes
- M.S. in Administration of Justice and Security
- Criminal Justice, AA (Online)
- Criminal Justice, BA (Online)
- Homeland Security, BA (Online)
American InterContinental University Online
- Bachelor's - Corrections and Case Management
Grand Canyon University
Colorado State University-Global Campus
- Master - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
- BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
Florida Tech University Online
- Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice/Homeland Security
- Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
University of Cincinnati Online
- Master of Science in Criminal Justice
Interested in a career similar to a corrections officer? Check out these related careers:
- Conservation Officer
- Criminal Investigator
- FBI Agent
- Fire Investigator
- First-Line Supervisor of Correctional Officers
- Fish and Game Warden
- Homicide Detective
- Narcotics Officer
- Police Officer
- United States Park Police
- US Marshal
- Victims Advocate
- Crime Scene Investigator
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm
Page Edited by Charles Sipe.