What Is the Difference Between Detention Officer & Correctional Officer?

Oct 17, 2019

This article provides a comparison of correctional officers and detention officers, including the education requirements, job responsibilities and career trajectory for both positions.

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Comparing Detention Officers and Correctional Officers

The primary goal for both correctional officers and detention officers is to monitor inmates. However, there are distinctions in the scope and setting of their work. While detention officers tend to work for a local sheriff's office or county jail, correctional officers often work in state and federal prisons.

Job Title Minimum Education Requirements Average Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2018-28)**
Detention Officer High school diploma $37,927 -7% (correctional officers and jailers)
Correctional Officer High school diploma $44,994 -7% (correctional officers and jailers)

Sources: *Salary.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of a Correctional Officer vs a Detention Officer

Because detention officers usually work in smaller facilities, like county jails, they have a broader range of responsibilities. They may be expected to book inmates, monitor feeding schedules and oversee visitations. In contrast, correctional officers typically work in larger facilities like state and federal prisons. They focus on monitoring prisoners and are not usually expected to undertake administrative or housekeeping tasks (there are additional employees who specialize in taking care of those duties). Because correctional officers work exclusively with convicted criminals, their inmates may be more violent and difficult to monitor. While these are general rules of thumb, it is important to note that some prison systems use these two titles interchangeably.

Detention Officer

A detention officer is responsible for keeping inmates secure and safe during what is typically a temporary stay, inside of county jails. They are expected to assist with the booking of new inmates and intake for 'weekenders.' They may be in charge of keeping inmate computer records and providing appropriate information to families, lawyers and law enforcement personnel. Because they work in an intimate setting, they may be expected to perform administrative and housekeeping tasks, like changing linens, answering the phone or organizing mail. To qualify, they must have a high school degree and CPR, weapons, and detention officer training. Successful detention officers might pursue other law enforcement careers at the county level, like deputy sheriff or county sheriff.

Job responsibilities of a detention officer include:

  • Taking inmates' photos and fingerprints
  • Storing personal items for inmates
  • Serving food and collecting food trays
  • Administering medication to inmates
  • Overseeing visits from family, lawyers and others
  • Transporting or escorting inmates to court hearings or to other facilities

Correctional Officer

A correctional officer's primary responsibility is to supervise, train and care for inmates in state or federal centers. They must prevent prison escapes and report changes in behavior patterns to their supervisors. They must have incredible conflict resolution and interpersonal skills to help pacify issues between prisoners. There is a high chance that they will face verbal and physical assault on a regular basis, so they must have a high tolerance for stressful situations. Correctional officers are often expected to work overtime. Applicants must have at least a high school diploma (or GED) and a minimum of two years of work experience. Some positions require postsecondary education. Experienced correctional officers might aspire to supervisory positions within the prison system.

Job responsibilities of a correctional officer include:

  • Administering basic first aid in emergency situations
  • Training inmates to follow basic hygiene and housekeeping procedures
  • Overseeing headcounts and other control measures
  • Searching prisoners and cells for contraband and weapons
  • Transporting and escorting prisoners inside and outside of the prison
  • Supervising inmates at work

Related Careers

If you want to become a detention officer, you may also be interested in becoming a county sheriff since both positions involve protecting citizens and caring for inmates at the county level. If instead you wish to become a correctional officer, consider a job as a security guard where you utilize similar security, observation and conflict transformation skills.

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