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How to Become a Corrections Officer: Step-by-Step Guide

Research the requirements to become a corrections officer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in corrections.

Should I Become a Corrections Officer?

Corrections officers, also known as detention officers, are responsible for supervising prisoners, enforcing rules, and maintaining security in local, state, and federal correctional facilities. Some facilities may be outdated and uncomfortable, and corrections officers must stand for long periods of time. Working with incarcerated individuals may be difficult and stressful, but corrections officers have an opportunity to bring a positive influence into prisoners' lives.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma; bachelor's degree needed for work in federal prisons
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement or a related field
Certification Optional certification available
Training On-the-job or regional training programs available; federal correctional officers must complete the mandated hours required for formal and specialized training
Key Skills Good judgment, physical strength and self discipline ability, negotiation, interpersonal and resourceful skills, ability to use hand guns and surveillance devices
Salary $39,780 per year (2014 median salary for all correctional officers and jailers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Complete a Postsecondary Program

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for corrections officers. However, depending on the correctional institution, some college coursework may be required. Those who plan on working in federal prisons will need to earn a bachelor's degree. Aspiring corrections officers may consider an degree program in law enforcement, police studies, criminal justice, or a related field. Course topics generally include constitutional law, peacekeeping, and criminal investigations. In some cases, postsecondary educational requirements can be waived if a candidate has enough law enforcement or military experience.

Step 2: Complete On-the-Job Training

Newly hired corrections officers are often required to complete a training academy followed by facility-specific on-the-job training. Officers learn about ethics, safety precautions, and crisis management. They may also learn self-defense techniques and how to use firearms. Physical fitness training is often included as well. Prospective federal correctional officers must complete a minimum of 200 hours of formal training as well as 120 hours of specialized training at a federal prison.

Step 3: Get a Job in Corrections

Corrections officers usually find work in federal, state, or local institutions. These professionals are required to be U.S. citizens and have no felony convictions. Employers may also request candidates pass a drug test. Because the work of corrections officers involves many security-related situations, including potentially violent ones, employers may favor applicants with law enforcement or military experience. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires at least three years of full-time work experience in a related field for those who don't hold bachelor's degrees. Officers seeking initial employment at federal prisons must be under 37 years old.

Step 4: Fulfill In-Service Training Requirements

To stay abreast of new developments or procedures, corrections officers are often required to complete in-service training. Those who work in federal correctional facilities usually complete in-service training every year. Depending on the agency, qualifying coursework may be available through local colleges, professional organizations, or officer training academies.

Success Tip:

  • Get certified. A corrections officer can become a Certified Corrections Officer (CCO) through the American Correctional Association. Requirements for the CCO credential include holding a high school diploma or equivalent, completing one year of experience as a corrections officer, and passing an exam. Although not required for employment at most facilities, certification can give a corrections officer an advantage in terms of getting a new job or obtaining a promotion.

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