Corrections Officer Jobs

Among the most challenging occupations in law enforcement is that of the correctional officer. These law enforcement professionals supervise the care and control of imprisoned individuals.  Unlike the detention officers at a county jail, prison officials manage the daily activities of prisoners who have already received their sentence and are serving out their period of imprisonment.

Correctional officers are usually highly trained and qualified professionals who must maintain constant awareness of themselves and their prisoners. Prisoners can be desperate and violent, and often lack any regard for themselves or others. This is a dangerous combination that can put guards at risk.  In order to minimize the potential for injury from a violent attack, prisons put strict controls in place whenever a prisoner is in contact with correctional officers.

Duties and Job Description for Correctional Officers

The management of many hundreds or thousands of prisoners is a complex task involving a wide variety of roles.  Correctional officers may serve in a variety of posts within the prison facility including:

  • Control room – Guards monitor all areas through cameras and radio communications with prison officers.
  • Perimeter post – A specified area of the territory demarcating the boundary between the prison and the outside is monitored by walking or motorized transportation
  • Receiving gate – Guards check the vehicles of all entering and exiting personnel.
  • Dormitory post – Officers maintain a strict routine for prisoner activities in and around their cells
  • Visitor interactions – The activities of inmates and their visitors are scrutinized to ensure that contraband is not provided and that behavior doesn’t become unruly.

Within the confines of a prison, correctional officers are expected to perform their many responsibilities at the highest possible standards, to ensure the safety of themselves, their fellow officers and inmates.

Basic Professional Requirements for Corrections Officers and Prison Jobs

In most states, the requirements to serve as a correctional officer are quite attainable. 

 

Candidates should possess these qualifications:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be 18 years or older
  • No felony convictions
  • Have a driver’s license or some form of government issued identification
  • Have near normal vision and hearing, with or without correction

Many states require applicants to pass a written basic skills test that evaluates reading and mathematics.

Correctional Officer Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were 493,100 correctional officers working in the United States in 2010.  The average annual salary for these professionals was $39,020. The BLS estimates that between 2010 and 2020, 26,000 more correctional officer jobs will be created.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled the data in this table to show correctional officer salary averages in each state.

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Alabama
5830
33910
Alaska
1080
55380
Arizona
13650
40740
Arkansas
5180
31260
California
42410
66540
Colorado
7400
45000
Connecticut
4240
51870
District of Columbia
1520
40720
Florida
33640
39070
Georgia
17220
30390
Hawaii
2140
47580
Idaho
1730
32540
Illinois
11250
54130
Indiana
7680
32480
Iowa
3220
42610
Kansas
4330
32640
Kentucky
7380
29070
Louisiana
9710
34240
Maine
1050
33060
Maryland
8140
42860
Massachusetts
6930
57450
Michigan
10340
49390
Minnesota
4880
44320
Mississippi
5480
26960
Missouri
8680
29250
Montana
1140
32440
Nebraska
1670
32290
New Hampshire
1070
39920
New Jersey
10610
69840
New Mexico
4450
33270
New York
34290
56900
North Carolina
16920
31330
North Dakota
700
33500
Ohio
13650
40790
Oklahoma
6250
29740
Oregon
4250
50940
Pennsylvania
18390
47220
Puerto Rico
5730
26700
South Carolina
7470
31950
South Dakota
1340
33630
Tennessee
9790
31640
Texas
48190
34880
Utah
2710
39750
Virginia
16360
38490
Washington
6420
46990
Wisconsin
7440
42880
Wyoming
1100
40310

Educational Requirements for Correctional Officers

The minimum educational requirement for correctional officers is a high school diploma, but supervisors and senior officers are usually expected to possess a post-secondary degree of some kind.

While many prison jobs do not require education beyond high school, there are several ways to enhance credentials so as to increase the likelihood of employment in this competitive field.  Many two-year, four-year and graduate schools offer degrees in law enforcement and related fields that can provide valuable expertise in corrections. Many of these degrees in criminal justice, corrections or sociology can improve a correctional officer’s chances for getting hired, not to mention career advancement and promotion.

Certification Options for Correctional Officers

In addition to traditional educational institutions, there are also several organizations that offer certifications for correctional officers. Among the most reputable is the Certified Corrections Officer credential offered by the American Correctional Association.  This and other professional certifications require successful passage of an examination.

Many states offer certification programs through their law enforcement or correction departments.  These programs usually require enrollment in a training program that can be several weeks in length and require a registration fee.  In order to receive the certification, the final exam must be passed.  Some states limit the number of times the certification exam can be taken, so it is imperative to prepare diligently.  These programs may cover a variety of topics including

  • Prisoner behavior
  • First aid
  • Report writing
  • Fire safety
  • Suicide awareness
  • Correctional law
  • Cultural diversity
  • Defensive tactics

The advantage of a state certified program is that they signify instant employability within the state’s prison system.

Training for Correctional Officers

Some states require new correctional officers to complete a training program.  In some states, this may involve enrollment in a formal training academy that may last several weeks or months.  In addition to the classroom instruction, recruits may be required to participate in a rigorous physical conditioning program designed to augment fitness, strength and stamina. A physical fitness exam may also need to be passed for final placement at a prison facility.

Following academy training, some states mandate a probationary period of several months where a senior correctional officer closely supervises new recruits.   These supervisors assist new recruits as they acclimate to the prison setting.  This on-the-job training period helps recruits learn specific procedures utilized in the facility, gain an understanding of the prison populace, and more readily recognize threats and risks.

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