Become a Prison Corrections Officer: Career Roadmap

Jul 10, 2020

Should I Become a Prison Corrections Officer?

Prison corrections officers employed by local, state or federal agencies or private companies bring order to the prison environment by monitoring inmates and taking disciplinary action when necessary. They ensure that prisoners are not causing disturbances and, in extreme cases, must prevent them from escaping the prison. Corrections officers also search prisoners and their belongings for weapons or contraband items that are not allowed in the prison. Prison corrections officers submit both oral and written reports on inmate behavior and must report any violation of rules or disturbances that occur.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers have a higher-than-average rate of injury and illness on the job. Correctional officers may face riots, hostage situations or other kinds of large-scale emergencies. They spend much of their shift standing and walking on their feet and may also need to commit to overtime hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma; bachelor's required to work at Federal level if candidate has no prior experience
Certification Voluntary professional certification is available
Experience On-the-job training is provided; advancement is typically commensurate with experience
Key Skills Critical thinking, sound judgment, communication, negotiation, physical strength
Salary (2014) $39,780 annually (median salary for all correctional officers and jailers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Step 1: Consider Earning an Undergraduate Degree

All prison corrections officers are required to have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, but further education requirements vary by employer. Some require associate degrees or consider military experience or law enforcement training or related experience in lieu of education. Others, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, require a bachelor's degree. For this reason, job candidates who have bachelor's degrees may have more job options than those who do not.

Success Tip:

  • Choose the right major. Associate degree programs in criminal justice may offer a concentration in corrections or correctional science. These programs prepare students in the classroom and in the field to become correctional officers or transfer to a four-year criminal justice program to earn a bachelor's degree.

Step 2: Complete a Training Academy Program and On-the-Job Training

Prison corrections officers must complete a training academy program before being assigned to a facility where they receive additional on-the-job training. In some states, it's possible to enroll in a correctional officer training academy through a local community college prior to attaining a job with a correctional agency. Training academies follow guidelines set by the American Jail Association and the American Correctional Association (ACA). Lessons covered in a training academy typically include institutional policies, safety procedures, operations and regulations. At the end of the training program, some states require that candidates earn a minimum passing score on an exam.

Agencies typically require that new prison corrections officers complete on-the-job training after completing instruction at the training academy. Those employed by federal agencies must complete 120 hours of training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons training center in Georgia, plus another 200 hours of training during their first year of employment. During on-the-job training, prison corrections officers may learn self-defense skills, additional firearm training, legal restrictions and interpersonal skills.

Step 3: Consider Earning Certification

The Corrections Certification Program (CCP) is offered by the ACA. Certification is not mandatory, but it does demonstrate a prison corrections officer's skills and professional qualifications. To earn certification, an officer must complete a course of self-study and pass a proctored examination that covers general corrections areas and topics, such as discipline.

Success Tip:

  • Choose the appropriate certification level and specialty. The ACA offers four different types of certification - adult, juvenile, security threat groups and nursing - with varied certification levels available depending on the management level of the correctional officer. The group also offers provisional certification for new graduates: Certified Corrections Officer/Provisional (CCO/P).

Step 4: Advance in the Field

Much like other occupations that have seniority ranking systems, prison corrections officers can rise in rank, from officer to sergeant, by gaining experience and demonstrating exemplary service. The role of correctional sergeant comes with more responsibilities, such as overseeing and guiding lower-ranking officers. Experienced officers may also have the opportunity to take a position that involves more managerial and supervisory responsibilities, and many take a jobs in relevant fields, such as probation or parole officer, and advance from there.

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