What is a Correctional Officer?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: September 23, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Criminal Justice
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The law enforcement industry has many different jobs you can enter into. One of those jobs is known as a correctional officer. This type of position is found at a prison or a jail.

Correctional officers will oversee and enforce the rules at a jail or at a prison. They often work with medical professionals, counselors, and other correctional officers. The state and federal prison systems are some of the largest employers of correctional officers.

What is a Correctional Officer?

Responsibilities of Correctional Officers

If you decide to become a correctional officer, you will have specific responsibilities. These may include any of or all of the following:

There are many job duties you will be tasked with as a correctional officer. These are the most common from one facility to another.

Necessary Skills for Correctional Officers

If you want to become a correctional officer, you will need to have the right skills. Communication skills are very important for this career. You will also need to be physically fit and strong. Correctional officers often have to restrain inmates, so physical strength is important.

Along with these skills, you will need to exercise good judgment, pay close attention to details, and have good discipline. Correctional officers are often in emotional situations. You will need to be able to handle these types of situations without losing your composure.

How to Become a Correctional Officer

1. Education

You will need the right education to become a correctional officer. It’s not necessary to get a bachelor’s degree. You can become a correctional officer with a high school diploma or equivalent. Some facilities will require a bachelor’s degree for correctional officers.

It might be necessary to take courses in social sciences or behavior sciences, even if you don’t get a degree. Military or law enforcement experience can also help you get a job as a correctional officer.

2. Complete the Exams

You will need to pass both physical and written exams to become a correctional officer. The written exam will test your mental acuity and your judgment. You will need to pass the physical exam, too. It will test your endurance, strength, and stamina.

After passing both tests, you will still need to pass a drug test, background check, psychological exam, and medical exam.

3. Complete Training

As a correction officer, you will need to complete training. This will take up to a few months and will allow you to work in many different facilities. You will study communications, state regulations, self-defense, and security procedures during your training.

The Work Environment of a Correctional Officer

Most correctional officers will work in a prison or jail facility. Some will work in newer facilities, while others may work in older facilities. You may work outside if you’re tasked with guarding the facility or indoors.

You may also work for the government or for a private company. Many prison facilities are operated by private companies. This may impact the quality of the facility and the type of facility you work for.

Correctional officers may work at a minimum, medium, or maximum-security facility, as well. Maximum security facilities are used for more violent crimes and the work environment can come with more conflict. A minimum facility will likely house non-violent offenders. This can be a less stressful environment.

You may need additional training to work in a maximum-security facility. It may also be necessary to gain more training if you plan to work outside or in a specific role within the facility.

Frequently Asked Questions About Correctional Officers

How much can I make as a correctional officer?

The average salary for a correctional officer is about $33K. This salary can be higher or lower, depending on the location of your job and your employer. More experienced correctional officers tend to make a higher salary.

Working for the department of corrections can pay more than working for smaller facilities, as well. The highest-paying employers for correctional officers include the New York City Department of Correction, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the United States Department of Justice.

New York City is the highest paying location with Eloy, Arizona, Dallas, and Houston not far behind.

What type of benefits do correctional officers get?

It’s common for correctional officers to receive paid time off, health insurance with dental and vision insurance, and military leave. Some correctional officers will also gain benefits, such as loan forgiveness and employee assistance programs.

How long will it take me to become a correctional officer?

The amount of time you have to invest to become a correctional officer depends on the path you take. Some facilities don’t require a college degree. However, you will still need to complete academy training, which will last six to twelve months. If you want to work at a federal facility, you will also need a bachelor’s degree. It can take from 6 months to 5 years to become a correctional officer.

Will I carry a gun as a correctional officer?

In some circumstances, you may carry a gun as a correctional officer. Those guarding the perimeter of a facility or transporting prisoners will likely carry a gun. During prison riots or hostage situations, it’s also common for correctional officers to use tasers and other weapons.

What type of work schedule does a correctional officer have?

It’s common for a correctional officer to work on a shift schedule. They may work first, second, or their shift. Some will work overtime and may work holidays or weekends. Most correctional officers will work full time and on a set schedule.

Is this career in high demand?

Correctional officers are in demand, but it’s not necessarily a high demand. The expected growth rate for this career is about 7% over the next ten years. This is just above the average of all occupations.

What will my job title be as a correctional officer?

There are several different careers within the field of correctional officers. You might have a job title as a probation officer, security guard, state correctional officer, bailiff, or federal correctional officer. These are the most common job titles for correctional officers.

What are the requirements to become a correctional officer?

You will need to be at least 20 years old with a valid driver’s license to become a correctional officer. You will also need to be a United States citizen without any disqualifying criminal convictions. The requirements may vary, depending on the employer.

Federal requirements will include a bachelor’s degree, sound financial history and you will need to be between 20 and 37 years of age.

State and local requirements may allow you to be 18 years of age in some states and 21 in others. You will also need a high school diploma or GED.

If you work for a private company, the requirements may vary.

What will my first few months as a correctional officer look like?

New correctional officers tend to be on probation for 12 months. Once you have secured a job, you will gain some on-the-job training, throughout your first few months, as well.

What type of skills do I need to become a correctional officer?

Along with your training, it’s very helpful to have great communication skills. You will also need to be able to make fast decisions. Those seeking a career as correctional officers should have excellent physical stamina and strength.

Are you considering a career as a correctional officer? If so, you should know what a correctional officer does and how to become one. There are specific requirements you will need to meet and you will need the right education and training.

This career doesn’t require a college degree. However, if you want to work for a federal facility, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Regardless, if you want to become a correctional officer, you want to make sure this is the right career for you. It can be rather difficult on a person emotionally and physically. Make sure it’s the right career path for you.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.