Prison Warden: Career Guide
Prison wardens are the top correctional officers at a given facility, responsible for the safe and secure operation of the facility that they manage. Prison wardens manage schedules for prison guards, support staff, and offenders; manage policy changes and updates; and allocate budgets and resources for the maximum possible effect. They have the huge responsibility of managing crisis responses in the event of riots and other disruptions. The goal of a prison warden is to combine effective problem solving, security, and incident prevention measures so that issues do not escalate to crisis status.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Most prison wardens work for government correctional agencies. However, the growing number of privately-operated penitentiary systems also offer opportunities. Seasoned prison wardens may be promoted to other administrative positions or may seek employment with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Prison warden job duties include:
- Creating top-level plans of action for correctional personnel
- Ensuring prisoners are classified according to their threat to the general population and to frontline employees
- Monitoring and reviewing staff performance, and correcting related issues
- Establishing policy to guide day-to-day operations at the facility
- Acting as a liaison to the local criminal justice system and the community
- Implementing training standards and procedures for correctional staff
Steps for Becoming a Prison Warden
Most prison wardens have extensive experience in the corrections field and may have a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some prison wardens may also hold a master’s degree in business management or corrections management. To become a prison warden, you can expect some combination of the following general steps:
- Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*
- Apply for a job as a prison warden.
- Undergo a background investigation.
- Take and pass a drug test.
- Be interviewed.
- Be hired as a prison warden.
- Get on-the-job training as a prison warden.
*A degree may or may not be necessary for a job as a prison warden, or an acceptable combination of education and experience may be required. Read the job requirements for the particular position for exact details.
Prison Warden Job Training
A prison warden is the highest-ranking official in a corrections facility, so candidates for this position must possess a solid combination of education and experience. Often a candidate has worked his or her way up into the position having started as a prison guard or a probation officer. A bachelor’s degree in a related field such as criminology or justice administration is helpful.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Among other qualities, it is helpful for a prison warden to be flexible, good-mannered, resourceful, and tenacious. Additionally, a warden should have skills in management/supervision, reading, listening, problem-solving, and negotiation. Knowledge of current standards and theory within the corrections and judicial systems is also essential for this position.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Corrections Warden
- Jail Administrator
Prison Warden Salary and Outlook
Due to the dangerous and stressful nature of the work, many correctional employees do not remain in the field for the years required to establish the experience necessary to become a warden or other high-level corrections employee. Population growth and increasing incarceration rates are driving the growth of private sector firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific data on prison warden salaries but does report that first-line supervisors of correctional officers earned a median annual salary of $42,510 in 2017.1 Opportunities for growth are relatively low due to the position being at the top of the corrections organizational chart, but may include lateral moves to private security or consulting work to improve other agencies’ detention techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How much education do I need to become a prison warden?
Answer: A GED is the minimum education requirement, and a bachelor’s degree in a related field is very helpful, but experience in corrections is key in becoming qualified to be a warden.
Question: Where do prison wardens work?
Answer: Prison wardens work at the jail which they are administrating.
Question: How much contact with inmates will I have as a prison warden?
Answer: Wardens are responsible for overseeing all inmate and staff operations; therefore, a fair amount of contact with inmates is to be expected.
Question: Since prisons are open and running 24/7, what happens when the warden is not there?
Answer: There are assistant wardens and deputy wardens who can be responsible for taking charge of the facility when the warden is not there.
- American Jail Association: A nonprofit organization for wardens and others who run America’s jails.
- The North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents: A professional organization dedicated to providing wardens with networking, training, and other professional opportunities.
- The Prison Journal: An academic publication that focuses on correctional facilities and methods of correction for a broad audience.
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1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2018, First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm