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Correctional Officer Job Description, Career as a Correctional Officer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Median—$33,600 per year

Employment Outlook Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Correctional officers guard inmates inside and outside local, state, and federal prisons. They counsel individuals and groups on prison rules and listen to their complaints and needs.

Inside prisons, they escort inmates from their cells to dining rooms, classrooms, hospitals, chapels, and work areas. They stand guard over recreational activities, watching for possible disturbances. Sometimes they search prisoners for forbidden articles. Officers also patrol buildings and grounds, checking locks, windows, bars, and gates to see that they cannot be used by prisoners to escape.

Other officers escort inmates outside prison boundaries, taking them to jobs in the community or on court-ordered trips. They bring back escapees and those who have violated parole. Correctional officers may watch over people who have been arrested and are waiting to strand trial. They are trained in the use of guns, handcuffs, and other restraint equipment.

Education and Training Requirements

Age requirements vary. Some correctional systems expect applicants to be eighteen years old, while others require them to be twenty-one. At the state level, high school education is either required or preferred. The Federal Bureau of Prisons prefers that applicants have bachelor's degrees; it may accept three years of full-time experience in counseling and supervision of individuals or a combination of college study and counseling work.

Most correctional systems require written examinations that determine applicants' reading level and ability to follow directions. Some give civil service tests and psychological examinations. Applicants at all levels must undergo rigorous physical examinations. They cannot have been convicted of any felony.

Training periods last from one to six months, depending on the size of the prison. The training, which may take place in the department of correction, an academy, or in the prison itself, includes courses in the principles, practices, terminology, and rules of modern correctional methods. Personal defense, physical restraint of prisoners, and the use of guns are also studied. Many prisons require that officers practice their rifle skills at regular intervals.

Certification at different levels is offered through the American Correctional Association. Candidates must pass examinations that measure their knowledge of the field.

Correctional officers guard inmates inside and outside the prison, counsel them on prison rules, and listen to their complaints and needs. (Damian Dovarganes/AFP/Getty Images.)

High school courses in government and communications are useful for those interested in the field. Many two-year colleges offer associate degrees in correctional science, which can be helpful in gaining employment. The programs include classes on crime and delinquency, administration of justice, the court system, psychology, and sociology.

Getting the Job

Local and state prisons offer more job opportunities than federal prisons. Job seekers can apply directly to state or county correctional institutions or state and local civil service commissions. State employment services may list job openings for correctional officers. Those who want jobs in the federal prison system should take the necessary civil service tests.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

With experience, education, and training, qualified officers may advance to a higher rank and salary. Advancement in larger prisons is usually from correctional officer to sergeant to lieutenant to captain to deputy keeper; titles often vary.

The employment outlook for correctional officers is very good through 2014. More positions are expected as existing facilities are expanded and new prisons built to house the growing number of prisoners. Other jobs should open up as experienced workers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Corrections officers usually work eight-hour shifts, which rotate. They are on call for emergencies and may work weekends and holidays. All officers wear uniforms. In large prisons they must stand inspection before their daily work begins.

The job can be stressful, especially in emergency situations. Officers may find themselves in personal danger. They must act quickly, assess situations carefully, act in accordance with regulations, and protect themselves as well as inmates and other officers.

Earnings and Benefits

Pay scales vary widely, based on the kind of job, seniority, and location. In 2004 the median salary for all correctional officers was $33,600 per year. For supervisors and managers, the median salary was $44,720 per year. Some experienced officers earned more than $54,820 per year. The median salary for all federal correctional officers was $44,700 per year. Federal officers started at $26,747 in 2005.

Where to Go for More Information

American Correctional Association
206 N. Washington St., Ste. 200
Alexandria, VA 22314
(800) 222-5646

American Jail Association
1135 Professional Ct.
Hagerstown, MD 21740-5853
(301) 790-3930

Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First St. NW
Washington, DC 20534
(202) 307-3198

National Council on Crime and Delinquency
1970 Broadway, Ste. 500
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 208-0500

Correctional officers receive benefit packages that include life and health insurance, pension plans, sick leave, and paid holidays and vacations.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service