Jailer: How to Become a Jailer or Correctional Officer

Learn how to become a jailer or correctional officer. Research the job duties and education requirements and find out how to start a career in a correctional institution.

Should I Become a Jailer or Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers or jailers enforce rules and monitor the behavior of prisoners, including those awaiting trial. These officers generally need an eye for detail and the ability to calmly react with authority in a crisis. Strong written and oral communication skills are also needed in this occupation that holds the potential for violence.

Career Requirements

Education Required High School diploma minimum; some agencies require a college degree; training academy
Education Field Criminal justice, criminology, psychology or a related discipline
Licensure and Certification Licensure requirement varies by state; voluntary professional certification is available
Experience Up to three years of experience may be required in order to work in federal prisons
Key Skills Self discipline, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, basic computer and word possessing competence, stress management and physical strength
Salary (2014) $39,780 per year (Median Salary)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP), (August 2015), Multiple school websites (August 2012)

Step 1: Get an Education

Obtaining a high school diploma is the first step in becoming a correctional officer. A postsecondary degree isn't always required, but certain positions may require some college education, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and will allow for quicker advancement within the field. Relevant associate's programs in criminal justice, corrections or corrections administration generally involve two years of study. At some schools, these programs can be taken in conjunction with a training academy program. Common courses include parole, correctional law, prisoner supervision and psychology.

Step 2: Complete Training

Jailers and correctional officers participate in training academies administered by government agencies or take jailer courses at community colleges. These short-term jailer or correctional officer training programs don't lead to a degree but can prepare students for entry-level positions in the field. Applicants must complete physical assessments, a background check and an interview.

In training academy programs, students learn how to supervise inmates, prepare reports, secure jails, release inmates and apply correctional law. Aspiring correctional officers also learn self-defense tactics and the safe use of firearms. In some cases, these programs prepare trainees for state certification or licensure exams.

Success Tips:

  • Stay in shape. Correctional officers have the potential to be injured in confrontations with prisoners. Individuals in this field should stay in shape and learn how to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Step 3: Find a Job

Utilizing the human resources department of a correctional officers academy, canvassing online job markets, and checking the websites of prisons are the best means to find prospective openings. Potential jailers or correctional officers should look into the educational requirements set forth by government agencies and private companies, then apply to the appropriate openings. While some agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma and train them on the job, others prefer some additional courses or a college degree.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

While certification isn't always required, it can help jailers stand out and may lead to career advancement. A few organizations offer professional credentials, including the American Correctional Association (ACA). In order to earn the ACA's Certified Corrections Officer designation, applicants need to have a high school diploma or GED and one year of work experience prior to taking the exam.

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