correctional officer

Job Spotlight - Correctional Officer

If you have been looking for more information on working as a Correctional Officer, then you have come to the right place. Our goal is to give you all the information you could use to make an informed decision on whether or not this job is something you should consider.

Quick Facts: Correctional Officers and Jailers
2015 Median Pay (Annual)$40,580
2015 Median Pay (Hourly)$19.51
Entry Level EducationAt least a high school diploma or GED
Recommended EducationPost-secondary education (certificate or degree)
2014-2024 Projected Outlook4% growth (slower than average)
2014 Number of Jobs474,800
2014-2024 Estimated Employment Gains17,900

Resource: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Correctional Officer FAQs

You probably have more than a few questions about what kind of job a Corrections Officer is. This page is dedicated to answering frequently asked questions that you may have concerning the Correctional Officer position. We will not sugar-coat the answers as we aim to give you the straight truth on this profession. If we missed any questions you may have, please feel free to contact us and we help you find the right answer.

What is a Correctional Officer?

The men and women who serve as Correctional Officers, sometimes called Detention Officers are the unsung heroes of our justice system. Normally working in dangerous and potentially hostile environments, it is their job to ensure the safety and security of not only the general public but also themselves, other officers as well as the inmates they guard. They do this by acting as a moral authority over the prisoners and maintaining the smooth operation of the facility.

There are main roles that Correctional Officers serve in the justice system. These roles are:

  • Safety Facilitators
  • Supervising Inmates and Disarming Possible Dangerous Situations
  • Providing Security at Prisons and Jails
  • Assist in Inmate Rehabilitation

How Can I Get Started as a Prison Officer?

The path to a job as a Correctional Officer is very dependent on the type a facility you want to work in and what type of professional aspirations you may have for yourself. To help better understand what needs to be done in order to start as a Corrections Officer, we will break down some requirements so that you will have a better understanding on how it works.

Basic Requirements

You have to figure out what type of correctional institution you would like to be employed at. For the most part there are two types of corrections facilities that we are concerned with and these are local/state and federal. Let’s look at the very basic prerequisites that you may need to meet in order to be employed as a Correctional Officer.

Local Jail and State Prisons

Even though some requirements may vary by state or even local regulations, the basic requirements for these facilities normally include:

  • Must have a high school diploma or GED
  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must own a valid driver’s license
  • Must be able to pass a criminal background check
  • Must be able to pass a drug test
  • Must be able to pass the psychological and physical exams
  • Must be a U.S. citizen
  • Must meet all physical fitness requirements as stated by the institution
  • Must have good communication (both written and oral) and mathematical skills
Federal Prison

The requirements to work for the Federal Bureau of Corrections (BOP) are a bit stricter than most of those presented at the local/state level. Not to mention that there are two different categories of federal Correctional Officers that you may apply for that also have slightly different requirements from each other.


The GS-05 in an entry-level position within the federal prison system. The requirements are as follows:

  • Must be between 18 and 36 years old
  • Must be able to at least meet the standards of the physical fitness, vision and hearing tests
  • Must be able to pass a drug test
  • Must be a U.S. citizen
  • Must be able to pass a criminal background check
  • Must pass a written exam
  • Must hold a 4 year degree (bachelor degree) earned at an accredited college or university


At least 3 years’ general experience of full-time duties such as:

  • Counseling others
  • Management or supervising others
  • Teaching
  • Providing guidance, direction and assistance
  • Responding or performing in emergency situations
  • Persuasive commissioned sales

Some examples of occupations that qualify as general experience include:

  • Teacher/instructor
  • Day care provider
  • Counselor
  • Nurse
  • Security guard
  • Social worker
  • Firefighter
  • Member of the Clergy
  • EMT (emergency medical tech)
  • Air traffic controller
  • Probation/parole officer
  • Salesperson in persuasive commissioned sales
  • Manager or Supervisor

Those looking to get hired as a GS-06 will need to meet the criteria listed above for GS-05 along with the following:

At least nine semesters hours or 14 quarter hours of post-graduate study from an accredited institution in:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Social Science
  • Other fields of study related to this type of position such as law


Performing at least 1 year of full-time of specialized expertise duties in areas such as:

  • Responding and working with domestic disturbances
  • Capturing and arresting those for violating the law
  • Supervising and ensuring individuals confined to a correctional or mental health institution follow the rules and regulations

Examples of jobs that offer the necessary specialized experience include:

  • Corrections or Detentions Officer
  • Police Officer or State Trooper
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • Sheriff or Deputy Sheriff
  • Park Ranger
  • Supervising inmates in jail or prison
  • Residential mental health worker

It should go without saying that anyone who wants to be a Correctional Officer and has the ambition to move up the ladder in to supervisory roles, then you should consider getting some post-secondary education. We suggest at least a four-year bachelor degree from an accredited university or college relating to law, social science, supervision or criminology. By doing so, you may get a bit of an advantage over those lacking the degree and education.

On The Job Training

No matter what type of prison or jail you decide you want to work for, you will find that you will need to gain some form of on-the-job experience. Usually these types of programs will place you under someone in a supervisory position such as an officer who will walk you through the steps of the job. An officer will help you get accustomed to the skills necessary to be successful as a Correctional Officer but also give you some practical experience in seeing and performing the actions of the job.

Quick Info: Traits for Success
Some personality and character traits that are helpful for correctional officers
• Critical thinking
• Exceptional judgment
• Good communication and interpersonal skills
• Physically fit
• Good eye-sight and hearing
• Strong self-discipline
• Decent negotiation skills
• Quick reaction time
• Resourcefulness
• Observational skills
• Impartiality
• Attention to detail
• Strong organizational skills

Where Can I Find Corrections Officer Classes?

Believe it or not, one of the best resources to find Correctional Officer programs and classes is on the internet. With a few quick keystrokes you will find a number of schools and education facilities that offer programs in or around your area. Make sure you find programs that have been fully-accredited by either the American Jail Association or the American Correctional Association.

If you are very interested in this as a long-term position, and want to move up the hierarchy of the corrections department you work for, then you will need a slightly different education. You can easily find accredited colleges and universities that offer two- and four-year degrees. The most popular degrees or majors for those looking to become a Correctional Officer are Criminology, Criminal Justice, Psychology and Human Services.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Prison Guard Program?

The amount of time it takes to complete Correctional Officer training is directly related to the type of jail or prison you are looking to be employed at. As previously mentioned above, there are stronger educational requirements that must be met to work in the Federal Bureau of Prisons than there are to work at the local or state level facilities. It often takes up to four years of post-secondary education to qualify to work at one of the federal prisons while some local and state prisons do not require any post-secondary education.

Most programs for those looking for state or local prisons can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the type of program you have enrolled in. You will be educated by an experienced Corrections Officer and will cover a wide range of subjects such as security and custody operations, self-defense, proficiency in handling firearms, interpersonal relations, communication and responding to emergency situations such as riots and dangerous confrontations.

For those that want to work in the federal system, the requirements are a bit more complex. They include 200 hours of formal education during the first year of employment as well as annual in-service program to keep up with the latest developments and procedures.

What is the Correctional Officer Job Description?

The job description associated with the position of a Corrections Officer can vary depending on the size and type of jail or prison but the main duties are very similar no matter the type of facility. Here are some examples of a typical duties that you would do in this position:

  • Supervise and monitor inmates and their activities
  • Help with serving meals, handing out personal hygiene products and assigning work duties for inmates
  • Perform searches of inmates, recreational, living and work areas for contraband including weapons and drugs
  • Assist in monitoring and screening of visitors and mail
  • Patrolling of duty areas and quarters
  • Initiate inmate counts both at regular and random intervals
  • Preserve safety and security of inmates, including those being transported
  • Maintain control and discipline of inmates
  • Keep track of the physical whereabouts of inmates at all times
  • Account for all equipment and supplies
  • Make sure that all relevant paperwork such as transportation permits are in order
  • Monitor for any signs of disorder, tension and possible dangerous confrontations
  • Provide assistance for rehabilitation, counseling and educational opportunities of the inmates
  • Physical inspection of doors, windows, bars, lock and other conditions in the facility to ensure safety and no signs of tampering

What is the National Median Corrections Officer Salary?

The 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the median annual Correctional Officer salary at $40,580 for the nation and $53,400 for those who work as a federal prison guard. Your actual salary may be different depending on several factors such as they type of facility you work at, the location of the facility and the number of years of experience or education you have. There are also chances to work overtime for those that want it.

correctional officer salary

There are a number of fringe benefits normally associated for those working as a prison guard that goes beyond the base salary. These include clothing allowances, uniforms, training, vacations, retirement benefits and insurance coverage. Fringe benefits like these should not be overlooked.

What is the Job Outlook for Jailers and Prison Officers?

The latest projections from the BLS show an increase of 4% or roughly 17,900 new jobs opening up over the next decade. This is slightly slower than the national average for all occupations but this is mainly due to lower crime rate along with shorter prison terms and use of alternatives to prison sentences.

Correctional Officer Projected Job Growth

Keep an eye out since a number of state and local correctional agencies have a higher than normal job turnover which can create unexpected job opportunities. There will always be a need to replace outgoing correctional officers as long as there are criminals to be dealt with.

Are There Any Correctional Officer Certifications?

While it is not mandatory for a Corrections Officer to earn their certification, it can help you gain an advantage over other officers when it comes to promotions or a new employment opportunities. By having 1 year of experience and passing the exam given by the American Correctional Association, you can find employment as a Certified Corrections Officer (CCO).
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