Detention Officer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a detention officer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

A detention officer supervises inmates mainly in state detainment facilities. Physical fitness and good communication skills are necessary as they may have to engage in difficult situations. Professional education isn't always required, but college coursework and a certificate can boost job potential.

Essential Information

Detention officers work in jails, courtrooms and juvenile detention centers overseeing the safe imprisonment of inmates. They report inappropriate activity to the warden and manage conflict between inmates. All detention officers are required to have a high school diploma and be at least 18 years old. Having a criminal justice degree or law enforcement certification may also be required.

Required Education Varies by state; minimum high school diploma, while bachelor's degree is required for working at the federal level
Other Requirements Must be 18 year or older and physically fit, pass state exam and background check
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all correctional officers and jailers
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $40,530 for all correctional officers and jailers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Detention Officer

Detention officers work to ensure the safe confinement of prisoners in a wide variety of settings. Many detention officers work in jails, overseeing prisoners after they have been arrested and before they go to trial. Detention officers are also employed at juvenile offender centers to keep the inmates in order. The job is quite dangerous and involves a high level of risk.

The salary and job outlook of detention officers may vary depending on the institution that hires them as well as their level of experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for correctional officers and jailers in 2015 was $40,530 ( This career field is projected by the BLS to expand at a slower-than-average pace of 4% from 2014 to 2024.

Detention Officer Job Duties

A detention officer's overall goal is the safe and smooth operation of jails and juvenile detention centers. They must monitor inmates to see that they are not causing harm to themselves or others. If fights occur, detention officers are responsible for breaking up the situation and reporting all misdemeanors to the warden. Detention officers may also be responsible for ensuring the safe transport of prisoners from pretrial detention facilities to courtrooms and standing guard while they await sentencing.

Requirements for Becoming a Detention Officer

Every state and institution has different requirements for becoming an officer. At the bare minimum, an applicant must have a high school diploma and be 18 years of age. Each state or institution offers training programs and requires applicants to pass an exam. Detention officers that work at the federal prison level are required to possess a bachelor's degree.

Every detention center requires their officers to pass a comprehensive and in-depth background check to make sure they have no criminal convictions. Most centers also have extensive physical and situational tests that an applicant must pass to prove that they are fit to work in such a dangerous setting. Along with good eyesight, hearing and physical fitness, applicants must display good decision-making skills under stressful circumstances for a warden to consider hiring them.

While an education beyond high school may not be required by all positions, detention officers can earn certificates and participate in continuing education programs to enhance their careers. Completion of college courses or degrees may result in career advancement opportunities.

The daily activities of people held in custody at detention centers are overseen by special officers. Detention officers receive on-job training, and the educational requirements depend on the employer. Most places have applicants pass physical, written, and situational tests.

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