What Does a Correctional Officer Do?
If you want to serve your community and play a vital role in public safety, this career could be a good option.
Correctional officers, also called corrections officers, oversee people who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or people who have been sentenced to serve time.
They enforce rules and maintain security in prisons and jails. They keep prisoners, themselves and fellow officers safe by following strict protocols, making assaults or escapes unlikely.
Correctional officers are responsible for escorting prisoners to courtrooms, medical facilities, cells and other areas.
Officers with advanced training or experience may get involved in inmate counseling or rehabilitation.
Being a correctional officer can be rewarding. However, the work environment can be stressful. But if you have the right temperament, this in-demand role can provide a good-paying career with solid benefits.
Keep reading to learn more about being a correctional officer, including the relatively short training period and much more.
- Keep order within a jail or prison
- Oversee the activities of inmates
- Inspect inmates for contraband items
- Report on inmate conduct
- Escort and transport inmates
- Ensure facilities meet security and safety standards
How To Become a Correctional Officer: FAQs
What steps do I take to get this job?
First, you’ll need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
Next, you’ll get your training at an academy. Each state offers Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) programs, which typically include self-defense techniques, security procedures, restraint techniques and institutional rules and regulations.
The educational requirements you need will vary depending upon the position and the level of government where you want to work. Research the requirements of the job you are most interested in.
For example, to work at the state and local level, you’ll need to earn a certificate or associate degree that combines coursework and training. Programs will cover first aid, firearms safety, stress management, substance abuse, prisoner discipline, prisoner transportation, ethics and physical training.
In contrast, to become a federal corrections officer, you’ll need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or protective service or three years of work experience in a related field such as supervision or counseling.
Previous work experience in law enforcement or the military is also beneficial. In fact, if you meet this criteria, you may not need to meet the bachelor’s degree requirement at the federal level.
Once you meet the educational requirements, you must pass written and physical exams. After that, you’ll typically do several months or up to two years of on-the-job training during a paid, probationary period.
There’s plenty of opportunity for advancement in this career if you want a leadership position. You can also make a lateral move to a similar career, such as police officer or criminal investigator and move up from there.
Are there any other qualifications to consider?
You must be at least 18 years old in most states, and 21 years old in some states. You must be a U.S. citizen, have no felony convictions and have a clean financial history.
Expect a background check and a drug test.
In addition to being physically fit, you should also be mentally fit and able to handle unpredictable situations.
How long does it take to become a correctional officer?
A certificate takes a year to complete and an associate degree takes two years. Academy training typically lasts several months. A bachelor's degree takes four years.
Remember, regulations vary by state. Need to find your state correction department’s rules? USA.gov keeps a state-by-state corrections departments directory.
Where do correctional officers work? And what hours do they work?
Correctional officers primarily work in facilities run by federal, state and local governments. The government level of the facility is connected to the security risk of the prisoners and the crimes they’ve committed.
Officers also work at private correctional facilities.
Officers typically work full-time. Their hours may be odd because prisoners must be watched 24 hours a day. That means night, weekend and holiday hours are likely for new officers.
Is there a demand for correctional officers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts about 33,300 job openings per year from 2021 to 2031. The number of people who are incarcerated each year is declining, but there’s still a big need for correctional officers in every state.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful correctional officers tend to share certain innate skills, including:
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Good negotiating skills
- Physically strong