Correctional Officer Careers – Corrections Officer Job Description

Correctional officer jobs involve overseeing persons who have been arrested and are waiting to go to trial or who have already been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison.

Correction officers in local jails work with about 13 million people per year, with approximately 80,000 inmates at any one period of time. Correctional officers working in State and Federal prisons oversee about 1.5 million inmates at any given moment. Offenders who are serving time in local jails are typically serving time of one year or less while those serving more than a year are typically placed within State or Federal prisons. Juvenile Correctional Officers specialize in working with youths ages 18 and under.

The main responsibilities of Correctional Officers (commonly known as Prison Officers, Prison Guards and Jail Guards) are to provide security, enforce rules and regulations, monitor social and work activities of inmates, and prevent outbreaks of violence in the prison environment. Corrections officers perform periodic inspection of cells and the entire facility for hidden contraband and potential weapons, while also checking locks and gates for any signs of tampering. They also inspect mail and packages to and from the facility. In most cases, correctional officers have no law enforcement authority outside of the facilities in which they work; although, there are exceptions.

Prison officers routinely report incidences of security breaches, skirmishes among inmates, rule violations and any other unusual activity in a log of daily activity. Should an inmate escape, prison officers are required to assist local law enforcement authorities in apprehending the inmate and returning them to the facility. Prison guards who work in local jails are often unarmed but wear communications equipment so they may summon help as needed.

You might wonder how to become a Correctional Officer? Read on…

Correctional Officer Job Requirements

Specific requirements vary from agency to agency but all require that corrections officers possess a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). Some agencies may also require some college-level study or two years full time work experience which may or may not be law enforcement-related. A military background is often considered a benefit when seeking this type of employment.

All agencies require that prison guards be at least 18 to 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have no prior felony convictions. Candidates to become a Federal Correctional Officer must be no older than 37 years of age.

Prison officers must meet formal criteria with regard to physical health, eye sight, and hearing and possess emotional stability. Also required are sound decision-making skills, and the ability to act quickly in stressful conditions. Correction officer candidates are typically screened for drug use and subject to a comprehensive background check. Many agencies also require applicants to pass a written examination.

Correctional Officer Education and Training

A high school diploma or a GED is required by all employers, whether at the local, state or federal level. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level prison officers to possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree; 3 years of full time experience in a related field, such as counseling, or social work. Some local and state corrections agencies require some college study but applicable law enforcement or military experience may substitute for these credits.

Federal, state, and local corrections departments provide training for all new prison guards based on a set of guidelines formulated by the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. Some States also have regional training centers that provide instruction with regard to legal guidelines, interpersonal communication, use of firearms, as well as self-defense. Prison correctional officer trainees often receive several weeks of on-the-job training under the supervision of a senior correctional officer.

New federal corrections officers must participate in 200 hours of formal training within their first year of working. In addition, they must complete 12 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Bureau of Federal Prisons training center located in Glynco, Georgia. Experienced prison officers receive continuing training to keep up-to-date with regard to new policies and procedures.

Correctional Officer Salary

As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings of all Corrections Offices as of May 2008 (the last date for which data is available) were $38,380. Median annual salaries in the Federal Government were $50,830, $38,850 in State government, and $37,510 in local agencies. Within privately operated prisons, median annual salaries were $28,790. Civil service pay systems cover those prison officers who are employed by the Federal Government and most State governments.

In addition to salary, correctional officers are also provided with health benefits, as well as clothing allowances to purchase new uniforms. The retirement coverage enables correctional officers to retire at age 50 after having served 20 years or at any age after 25 years of service. Unionized prison officers tend to earn higher incomes and receive better benefits.

Correctional Officer Career Opportunities

Correctional officers work in local jails, as well as State based and Federal prisons. Qualified officers may advance into supervisory positions and are responsible for overseeing facility security and the work of all correctional officers. Correctional officers who pursue advanced education and perform well on the job may be promoted up the ranks all the way to warden (the top administrator of most prison facilities). In some jurisdictions, prison officers are able to “bid” on specific assignments such as correctional health, juvenile corrections, or corrections counseling and obtain additional training.

Some correctional officers transfer into such related occupations as a parole officer, correctional counselor, probation officer ( which includes: the career of juvenile probation officers and federal probation officers ). Some correctional officers move to a law enforcement career path.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

2 comments… add one
  • Tom Parker

    Great writeup on correctional officer career. My father is a correctional officer and I would love to follow his footsteps. The job can be hard at times, but he says it’s rewarding. Thanks.

  • kentucky correction

    I have been a correctional officer for a little over two years, It has been a great job. The job itself is not hard and not like the movies, 80% of the time you are either walking/sitting and observing, 15% of the time you are writing, or just communicating with inmates to build a report, its only 5% of the time that certain events unfold and you get to experience situations.

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