Correctional Officer

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Corrections officers work in jails, prisons, courthouses and detention centers.  They deal with and handle people who have just been arrested, defendants, and inmates.  Shift work is normal for corrections officers, as correctional facilities operate twenty-four hours per day.  Their duties vary throughout the shift.

Corrections officers perform the following functions:  booking prisoners, searching prisoners, guarding and watching prisoners, preventing fights and potential riots, transporting prisoners to and from court, inventorying personal possessions of inmates, guarding new arrestees, and guarding convicted felons.

Corrections officers may be part of a local sheriff’s department, working at the county jail or they may work at a state or federal prison.  And since the privatization of prisons seems to be a trend, corrections officers may even find themselves employed by a government agency or a private company.  Officers who work at jails experience a dizzying array of people:  those awaiting trial, those serving sentences for misdemeanors, and those convicted of felonies and awaiting transport to state or federal prisons.  Corrections officers who work at prisons usually work exclusively with felons.

Being a corrections officer is a dangerous job.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), corrections officers experience a very high rate of non-fatal on-the-job injuries.  This fact makes the job extremely stressful, while at the same time providing high job-satisfaction because of the importance of the job.

Becoming a corrections officer does not require a college or university education.  Applicants must have a high school diploma or a GED.  Some state and local corrections agencies require a nominal amount of college, but law enforcement or military experience may fulfill this requirement.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires officers to have a bachelor’s degree, along with three years of experience in counseling or supervision of people.  They must also be in good physical condition and pass a background check.  No felony convictions are allowed. Because of the high-risks of the job, corrections officers need to have excellent communications and interpersonal skills.  They should be capable of handling volatile situations with diplomacy, while at the same time maintaining a calm demeanor and a commanding presence.  Candidates must be at least 21 years of age, U.S. citizens or permanent residents.  In addition, applicants are screened for drug abuse and must pass a written examination.

Federal and state departments of corrections provide training for correctional officers.  Successful applicants attend regional training academies.  This is followed by on-the-job training, which includes legal restrictions and interpersonal relations.  Most corrections departments require training in firearms and self-defense.

Qualified corrections officers may advance and be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions.  Job opportunities are expected to be below average for corrections officers.  Officers enjoy stable employment, decent salaries, along with health and retirement benefits.  The average salary for corrections officers varies depending upon whether they work for state and local government agencies or the federal government.  The average salary for Federal corrections officers was $53,459, while the average salary for state corrections officers was $38,850.