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Duties of a Corrections Officer: Responsibilities and Skills Needed

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a corrections officer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification standards to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Corrections officers are alternately known as detention officers. They work in pre-trial detention facilities as well as local, state or federal jails, reformatories or penitentiaries. Corrections officers are responsible for maintaining control over individuals who are awaiting trial or those who have been convicted of a crime and are incarcerated.

Required Education High school diploma or GED
Other Requirements Bachelor's degree when counseling others
Projected Job Growth 5% from 2012-2022*
Median Salary (2014) $39,780 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Responsibilities of a Corrections Officer

Maintaining security and control over inmates is a broad description of the responsibilities of a corrections officer. The specifics are wide-ranging and vary by situation or place of employment. All corrections officers are only responsible for law enforcement duties within the confines of the institution where they are employed. Usually working unarmed--particularly if they are directly exposed to cellblock activity--corrections officers are only equipped with communications devices, in order to summon help. In high security facilities, corrections officers may monitor inmates via closed-circuit cameras and computers from a control center.

From the first day of incarceration, all activities and work assignments of inmates must be monitored. It falls to corrections officers to escort prisoners from jail to court or medical facilities and other authorized destinations. Corrections officers are also responsible for conducting searches of cells, inmates, visitors and mail for contraband, such as weapons or drugs. Cells, locks, gates and window bars are inspected regularly for signs of tampering. Written and oral reports are made on the daily conduct of prisoners, including work activity, security breaches and compliance with regulations. Corrections officers may assist other law enforcement agencies investigating crimes committed within the facility, as well as in the search for escaped convicts.

Skills

Although all agencies require corrections officers to have a high school diploma or GED, some require college experience. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires at least a bachelor's degree and three years of full-time experience in a related position where counseling skills are used. In general, corrections officers must possess many of the skills of police officers, social workers, teachers and counselors.

Because corrections officers work largely unarmed, they must have excellent interpersonal communications skills in order to establish and maintain a safe working relationship with inmates, ensuring that rules and regulations are followed with a minimum of coercion. They must exhibit sound judgment in knowing when to impose certain penalties--such as withholding or withdrawing privileges--to promote inmate cooperation and compliance with as little confrontation as possible.

Once hired, all corrections officers participate in a training program. These differ with each agency, but all content complies with guidelines established by the American Corrections Association (ACA) and the American Jail Association (AJA). The courses emphasized in the guidelines include professional and legal concepts, gangs and cultural diversity, cell or body searches, jail operations, inmate hygiene, familiarization with substance abuse, emergency procedures, restraints and suicide prevention.

In many systems, corrections officers must be skilled in the use of firearms and self-defense. This is especially true in the case of officers who become members of tactical response teams. At that juncture, training includes dealing with riots, disturbances, forced cell moving and disarming prisoners.

Throughout their careers, corrections officers participate in yearly in-service training sessions, which are intended to refresh skills as well as introduce new skills, policies and procedures. Further refining the skills of a corrections officer, the ACA and AJA offer training programs that lead to various professional certification designations, including Certified Correctional or Jail Executive, Manager, Supervisor or Officer.

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