How to Become a Prison Guard: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Prison Guard?

Prison guards, also known as correctional or detention officers, oversee individuals who are serving prison time. They enforce rules, search inmates, supervise activities and report inmate behavior. Since those in prison are always in need of supervision, prison guards must work both day and night shifts. The job comes with the potential for injury, since workers must have daily contact with inmates. Many professionals put in overtime hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level No degree required; college education may be necessary to work in federal prisons and will improve general career outlook
Degree Field Criminal justice is an applicable major
Experience Work or military experience may expand job opportunities
Key Skills Strong communication skills, interpersonal skills, critical-thinking skills, self-discipline, good judgment, physical strength
Additional Requirements Applicants must be at least 18 years old, hold no felony convictions and be U.S. citizens
Salary (2014) $39,780 (Median annual salary for correctional officers and jailers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net Online

Step 1: Obtain the Appropriate Training and/or Education

Different prison systems have different training requirements. For example, to work as a prison guard in a federal prison requires either a bachelor's degree, three years of full-time counseling experience or a combination of these two. A Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice is an applicable major for this profession, but there is no required major to become a prison guard. The federal prison system has its own 200-hour training program for new hires, 120 hours of which must be undertaken at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center in Glynco, GA.

State prison systems have their own training requirements and may offer training through state agencies and colleges. Quite often, a training program must be undertaken before becoming hired. These programs typically cover a number of different aspects of the job, including policies, security procedures, use of firearms, first aid, physical fitness training, interpersonal skills and more. Additionally, some local and private facilities have their own training programs based on standards created by the American Correctional Association (ACA).

Success Tips

  • Consider the type of facility where you want to work. Prison guards work at a variety of establishments ranging from county jails to United States Penitentiaries. Because settings may vastly differ, it can be extremely helpful to learn more about the different types of facilities and what the environments are like before applying to them.
  • Keep up a physical fitness program. Prison guards are required to be in good physical shape in order to handle prisoner disputes and implement discipline. A guard may need to detain prisoners trying to escape or assaulting other prisoners. Improving physical strength before entering the field can make the transition into working as a prison guard easier.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Having work experience on a resume can help an aspiring prison guard stand out over applicants without previous experience. According to the BLS, candidates with prior experience in counseling, supervisory, law enforcement or military settings have the best prospects in this field.

Step 3: Continue Your Education

Those who choose to continue their education may have the ability to advance in rank within the prison system. Advancements include promotions to supervisory or administrative positions, such as correctional sergeant. Prison guards can pursue a variety of continuing education options, including training courses and online classes. Those who work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons receive annual in-service training.

Success Tip

  • Get certified. A prison guard can become a Certified Corrections Officer (CCO) through the American Correctional Association. The competency profile for certification covers six main categories. Candidates must know how to manage offenders and control offender movement. They must be familiar with health, safety, sanitation and corrections. They also need knowledge on equipment control, ethics and law. In order to apply for certification, an individual must have one year of work experience at the officer level.
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