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 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.
Career 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
Steps for Becoming a Corrections Officer
Prospective corrections officers may find employment with only a high school diploma or GED. According to O*NET OnLine, 89% of correctional officers and jailers believe applicants should have a high school diploma or the equivalent, while 9% report applicants should have at least some post-secondary education.1 An associate's or a bachelor's degree in a field such as criminal justice can, however, be an asset for those seeking career advancement. For a federal corrections job, corrections officers must have at least a bachelor's degree or have 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 typically be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on location, be a US citizen, have no felony convictions, and be in good health. The steps for becoming a corrections officer may include the following:
- Acquire the necessary education and/or experience required for the corrections officer position you are targeting.
- Apply for an open corrections officer position.
- Pass a written exam.
- Pass a background investigation.
- Submit to a drug test.
- Be interviewed.
- Be hired as a corrections officer.
- Receive training on the job once hired.
Please note that a degree cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Additional academy training or education may be required for law enforcement jobs.
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 correctional guidelines and restrictions.
With increased crime, mandatory structured sentencing, and growing inmate populations, corrections jobs remain in high demand. These jobs call for well-educated, well-trained individuals who have at least some formal training, such as a two-year associate's degree. Command positions (sergeants, lieutenants, superintendents, etc.) often require a four-year bachelor's degree.
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. possess sound judgment, have the ability to make quick, appropriate decisions.
Corrections Officer Career Path
Corrections officers may be interested in earning promotion to supervisory positions. First-line supervisors of corrections officers include shift supervisors, sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. Supervising officers in a correctional facility are responsible for maintaining a safe environment for staff and inmates, directing searches as well as other routine and special operations, and scheduling and training the officers under their command, along with other administrative tasks.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, first-line supervisors of correctional officers earn an average annual wage of $63,340.2 O*NET OnLine reports that 78% of corrections supervisors think entry-level applicants should have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent, while 18% believe applicants should have completed at least some college or an associate's degree.3 Corrections supervisors also typically have related work experience and are commonly promoted from corrections officer positions.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Correctional Officer
- Corrections Officer
Corrections Officer Salary and Job Outlook
In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of $44,400 for correctional officers.4 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 to decline by about 7% from 2016 to 2026.4
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
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
Question: What type of hours do correctional officers typically work?
Answer: 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.
Question: What are working conditions like for corrections officers?
Answer: 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.
Question: Are there risks associated with working as a corrections officer?
Answer: 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.
Question: What type of advancement opportunities are available?
Answer: Correctional officers with the proper qualifications, including experience and education, may earn promotion to such positions as warden or corrections sergeant.
- American Correctional Association: A professional organization for individuals working in corrections that provides professional development and training opportunities.
- Corrections USA: A national organization, for corrections officers with local, state, and federal government, that provides a voice for the rights and needs of corrections officers.
1. O*NET OnLine, Correctional Officers and Jailers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3012.00
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018 Occupational Employment and Wages, First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes331011.htm
3. O*NET OnLine, First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-1011.00
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Correctional Officers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm