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.

Do I Want to Be a Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers oversee and are responsible for the persons who have been incarcerated in a correctional facility or are awaiting trial in county, state or federal prisons. Their duties include enforcing rules, supervising inmates, inspecting jail cells and reporting inmate behavior. Correctional officers also maintain safety and security by preventing fights and enforcing rules. Potential danger from confrontations with inmates and exposure to contagious diseases may cause considerable job stress.

Job Requirements

A high school diploma is required for all correctional officer jobs; however, some employers, such as federal prisons, also require either work experience or college education. In many cases, new correctional officers will need to complete training that's based on the American Correctional Association's guidelines. The table below summarizes the requirements to work as a correctional officer.

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma; associate's or bachelor's degree preferred or required in some cases*
Degree Name Any field**
Experience A few years of related experience may be required**
Key Skills Good judgment, decision-making and negotiation skills, self-discipline and interpersonal skills
Additional Requirements Drug free,** at least 18, no felony convictions, citizen or permanent resident of the U.S., physically strong*

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

Step 1: 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. Workers in this field 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 what prison work is like.

Step 2: 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.

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