Correction Officer: How Do I Become a Correctional Officer

Learn how to become a correctional officer. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a correctional officer.

Should I Become a Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers maintain safety and security in jails, courthouses and prisons. They oversee and are responsible for incarcerated persons. Their duties include enforcing rules, supervising inmates, inspecting jail cells and reporting inmate behavior. Potential danger from confrontations with inmates and exposure to contagious diseases may cause considerable job stress. The dangerous conditions lead to high rates of on-the-job illness and injury.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma; associate's or bachelor's degree preferred or required in some cases
Experience Related experience may be required
Key Skills Good judgment; decision-making; negotiation skills; physical strength and stamina
Salary $39,780 (2014 BLS Median Salary for Correctional Officers and Jailers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings from (August 2012).

Step 1: Meet Minimum Requirements

At a minimum, correctional officers must have a high school diploma, be over 18 and a U.S. citizen. . They must pass a drug test and not have any felony convictions. While local and state prisons may only require a high school diploma, the federal prison system requires correctional officers to have a bachelor's degree, be between 21-37-years-old and have at least three years experience supervising or counseling inmates.

Step 2: Earn a College Degree

While the minimum educational requirement to become a corrections officer is a high school diploma, some facilities will prefer or require that applicants have some post-secondary education. A degree is typically required for those without experience, but optional for those who have it. Although some employers accept graduates from any field, prospective corrections officers may consider enrolling in either an associate's or bachelor's degree program in corrections or criminal justice. Students who want to pursue employment at the federal level will need to earn a bachelor's degree if they don't have at least 3 years of applicable experience. Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs cover topics like criminal law and behavior, firearms, criminal psychology, behavior management and legal evidence.

Success Tips:

  • Get in shape. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it's important that prospective correctional officers get into good physical condition. Officers must be strong enough to subdue or move inmates.
  • Complete an internship. Students who are currently enrolled in a corrections degree program can participate in an internship at a corrections facility. This is an opportunity for students to ensure that they want to pursue a career in corrections and get a feel for prison work.

Step 3: Complete Corrections Training

Before working in a corrections facility, corrections officers usually complete a training program at a regional or state academy. Completing this program ensures that corrections officers understand the regulations, guidelines and operations established by the American Correctional Association. In addition, correctional facilities generally provide on-the-job training to teach new officers about self-defense and the safe use of firearms. According to the BLS, federal corrections officers must complete 200 hours of formal, on-the-job training. They must also complete refresher training throughout their careers.

Step 4: Continue Training and Education to Advance Career

There are several ways a correctional officer can advance. After gaining several years of experience, a correctional officer can move up the chain of command within a prison system, becoming a correctional sergeant or watch commander. Adding prison administration coursework opens up opportunity to advance to assistant warden or warden positions. Additionally, earning a criminal justice degree can lead to positions as a probation officer, police officer or correctional treatment specialist.

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