Correctional Officer Career Info
Correctional officers maintain safety and security in jails, courthouses, and prisons. They oversee and are responsible for incarcerated persons. Their duties include enforcing rules, supervising inmates, inspecting jail cells, and reporting inmate behavior. Potential danger from confrontations with inmates and exposure to contagious diseases may cause considerable job stress. The dangerous conditions lead to high rates of on-the-job illness and injury.
These professionals should have good judgment, strong decision-making skills, good negotiation skills, and physical strength and stamina. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers and jailers earned a median annual salary of $40,530 as of 2015.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||High school diploma; associate's or bachelor's degree preferred or required for some positions|
|Experience||Related experience may be required|
|Key Skills||Good judgment; decision-making and negotiation skills; physical strength and stamina|
|Salary*||$40,530 (2015 median salary for correctional officers and jailers)|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings from August 2012
Meet Minimum Requirements
At a minimum, correctional officers must have a high school diploma, be over 18, and a U.S. citizen. They must pass a drug test and not have any felony convictions. While local and state prisons may only require a high school diploma, the federal prison system requires correctional officers to have a bachelor's degree, be between 21 and 37 years old, and have at least three years experience supervising or counseling inmates.
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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 postsecondary 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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's important that prospective correctional officers get into good physical condition. Officers must be strong enough to subdue or move inmates. Students who enroll in a corrections degree program can also 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 prison work.
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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, federal corrections officers must complete 200 hours of formal, on-the-job training. They must also complete refresher training throughout their careers.
Continue Training and Education to Advance Career
There are several ways a correctional officer can advance in their career. After gaining several years of experience, a correctional officer can move up the chain of command within a prison system, becoming a correctional sergeant or watch commander. Adding prison administration coursework opens up opportunity to advance to assistant warden or warden positions. Additionally, earning a criminal justice degree can lead to positions as a probation officer, police officer, or correctional treatment specialist.
The minimum requirements to become a corrections officer include earning a high school diploma and completing corrections training, though federal corrections officers must also have a college degree.