Correctional Officer (County Jail): Educational Requirements

May 04, 2021

If you are good with people, a career as a correctional officer may be right for you. Correctional officers work at jails and other facilities providing security as well as monitoring prisoner behavior. Correctional officers usually only require a high school diploma.

Essential Information

Correctional officers work in all types of incarceration facilities including federal prisons, county jails and state penitentiaries. These officers all have the same underlying job, which is to keep an eye on inmates and maintain order within the institution. Correctional officers at the county jail level are required to have a high school diploma, or equivalent. They also receive ample on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced officer. Local department of corrections facilities use guidelines provided by the American Correctional Association (ACA) in order to provide training to entry-level correctional officers.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent for county jail; some college coursework may be required
Other Requirements Complete training academy or similar program; Must be 18-21 years old and citizen or permanent resident of the United States with no prior felony convictions
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) -7% (all correctional officers)*
Average Salary (2020) $52,340 annually (all correctional officers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

While all correctional agencies require officers to be at least 18-21 years old, they can have different educational and training requirements. In many county facilities, correctional officers receive on-the-job training supplemented by firearms and self-defense courses. They also receive training on legal guidelines and communication. In some cases, the county may send new correctional officers to a regional academy that teaches them about institutional policies and custody procedures.

Some agencies may require candidates to have corrections or military experience, and others require some college credits. Correctional officer training programs take about four weeks and cover firearms tactics and basic criminal law. Hands-on training and discipline are emphasized, and trainees learn how to write reports, fingerprint and recognize substance abuse problems. These programs usually qualify candidates for state certification. Candidates can usually apply before beginning their job search, but many are sponsored by their hiring agency.

Job Duties

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that most correctional officers work in state or county jails ( They are also sometimes called detention officers if they work in a facility that detains alleged offenders before they go to trial or to prison to serve a sentence. High turnover rates of inmates are common. Someone must be on duty at all times to monitor inmates; thus, correctional officers usually work rotating shifts that may contain inconsistent schedules like nights one week and days the next.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the BLS, the number of positions for corrections officers could decline by seven percent from 2019-2029. Many of these jobs are located in rural areas, and turnover can be high because of the shift work. The BLS reported an average salary of $51,200 for correctional officers who were employed by local government agencies as of May 2020. Some corrections officers advance to administrative and supervisory positions. They may also transfer to related positions, like those of probation officers or correctional treatment specialists, reported the BLS.

Correctional officer positions generally require only a high school diploma, but some employers also require college coursework. Employers may also require related or military experience. Most positions provide on-the-job training.

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