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Correctional Officer Career Guide

A correctional officers is responsible for overseeing people who have been arrested and are awaiting trail. Or, those who have been sentenced to serve time in prison. A career as a correctional officer is one that is incredibly challenging. Yet, incredibly rewarding, satisfying and fulfilling.

To become a correctional officer, you must have at least a high school diploma. For employment in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counselling, assistance, or supervision to individuals. Correctional officers develop their skills through completing training at an academy. This typically lasts several months, but this varies by state.

Many people who pursue careers as correctional officers feel a strong desire to clean up crime-ridden streets and make communities safer for everyone. While correctional officers cannot arrest dangerous criminals, they play a role in keeping them off the streets and reforming them so they no longer pose a threat.

Karen Murdock

Correctional Officer Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Correctional Officer Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Correctional Officer field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33957 Juvenile Detention Officer Female 29 $37,500 Bloomington, IL 01/01/2010
33112 Jail Guard Female 47 $26,000 VICTORIA, BC 01/01/2010
32727 Corrections Officer Female 39 $43,000 Payson, NY 01/01/2010
32544 Correction Officer Male 24 $52,000 Highspire, PA 01/01/2010

Overview

What a correctional officer actually does

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing people who have been arrested and are awaiting trail or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. They are responsible for supervising inmates and enforcing rules and keeping order. Their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Enforcing rules, regulations and keeping order within jails or prisons
  • Supervising the daily activities of inmates
  • Inspecting facilities to ensure that they meet security and safety standards
  • Searching prison inmates for contraband items
  • Reporting on inmate conduct (e.g., if they violate the rules, if a crime is committed or if an inmate escapes)
  • Escorting and transport inmates (either within the prison, or between different facilities)
  • Aiding in the rehabilitation and counselling of offenders

Why they are needed

Correctional officers play a unique role in the legal system. They are vital for ensuring offenders follow rules, are supported, safe and are rehabilitated when necessary. Without correctional officers, prisons would not run smoothly and could be very unstable places, where offenders come out more dangerous than when they went in.

Pros and cons of a career as a correctional officer

Pros:

  • A career as a correctional officer offers lots of different diverse and exciting career opportunities
  • Correctional officers improve the lives of people in prison, and play a key role in supporting them, helping them and keeping them safe. This makes it an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career
  • As well as being rewarding and fulfilling, a career as a correctional officer is challenging, stimulating and thrill-seeking… there will never be a dull moment!
  • Correctional officers tend to work in a supportive and cohesive team, where they receive all the relevant and correct training

Cons:

  • As correctional officers work with offenders every single day, and some of these individuals may be violent, the job has the potential for both dangerous and stressful situations.
  • There is a high rate of injury and illness among correctional officers, which is often a result of confrontations with inmates
  • Correctional officers have a demanding work schedule, often working long hours (including nights, weekends, and holidays)
  • You will witness some not very pleasant things, which can make it a very emotionally draining and taxing career

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of correctional officers is expected to decline 7 percent from 2019 to 2029. This decline in employment will vary by state, as the prison budget and populations vary and therefore determines how many correctional officers are necessary.

In general, the decline in employment is expected because changes to criminal law will have a large effect on how many people are arrested and incarcerated each year. Due to the amount of money it costs to keep people in prison, many state governments are preferring to give offenders shorter prison sentences and/or alternatives to prison. Similarly, the popularity of rehabilitation programs is increasing, as many are starting to understand the benefit of rehabilitating criminals to reduce reoffending rates.

Career paths

To become a correctional officer, you must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. For employment in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance or supervision to individuals.

Correctional officers will then complete training at an academy. Trainees receive instruction in a number of subjects, including self-defense, institutional policies, regulations, operations, and security procedures. This typically lasts several months, but this varies by state. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training maintains links to states’ Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) programs.

Example Job Titles for Correctional Officer

Below is a list of common job titles in the Correctional Officer field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a correctional officer was $45,180 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $31,740 and the highest 10% earned more than $82,900. The top paying industry was the federal government (excluding education and hospitals), which had an average annual salary for $58,020.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Correctional officers have a lot of responsibility when it comes to making decisions regarding the prisoners they are working with. As long as correctional officers always follow the correct policies and legal guidelines, they are encouraged to make their own decisions wherever possible. This gives them a high level of autonomy. Flexibility is perhaps not as high because correctional officers have to work long hours and are often overseen by those in more senior roles.

Locations and commute

As mentioned previously, the number of correctional officer jobs will vary by state due to funding and differences in laws. According to Zippia, the best states in the United States to be a correctional officer, based on average annual income and number of job opportunities available, are:

  1. Illinois, where the annual salary is $62,440
  2. Pennsylvania, where the annual salary is $54,140
  3. Nevada, where the annual salary is $62,140
  4. New Jersey, where the annual salary is $40,850
  5. Michigan, where the annual salary is $37,890

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Oklahoma, Missouri, Vermont, Maine and Hawaii.

Work environment

The largest employer of correctional officers in the United States in 2019 was the state government (53%), followed by local government (37%) and then facilities support services (5%) and the federal government (4%).

Correctional officers tend to work full time on rotating shifts. Because security in prison is needed around the clock, they may work weekends, evenings and holidays. On top of this, the demands of the job often call for working overtime and variable hours. Correctional officers can work indoor or outdoors and the environment can be stressful and dangerous. Due to confrontations with inmates, correctional officers actually have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Correctional Officer careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Correctional Officer career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Correctional Officer.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

There is little to no exploration on the specific personality types that make a successful correctional officer. However it can expected that a successful correctional officer will most likely be the ESTJ personality type. ESTJ types, or otherwise known as ‘the executive’, are confident and orderly. They enjoy taking charge, are direct and do things by-the-book. All of these skills will allow correctional officers to fairly enforce rules and keep order in prisons.

Accomplishment and mastery

As being a correction officer requires a lot of skills to be learnt on the job and during training, there is a high sense of mastery. The sense of accomplishment may often feel low for correctional officers. This is because on many occasion, things will not go according to plan and correctional officers may be faced with disobedience and confrontation.

Meaning and contribution

As challenging as the job is, there is a high level of meaning and contribution in correctional careers. Being a correctional officer is an incredibly noble career and one that not many people are cut out for. Being responsible for criminals, who are often dangerous, plays a huge rule in society. Therefore, a career as a correctional officer offers high meaning and contribution.

Life fit

A career as a correctional officer can be challenging to fit into the lives of many. Most correctional officers will work full time on rotating shifts. Because security in prison is needed around the clock, they may work weekends, evenings and holidays. On top of this, the demands of the job often call for working overtime and variable hours.

Who will thrive in this career?

Firstly, to thrive as a correctional officer you will need to be confident and authoritative. You will need to enjoy having responsibility and interacting with other people, especially dangerous criminals. Those who can solve problems will thrive, as many of the daily challenges of a correctional officer will involve finding solutions to prisoners problems or any issues that arise.

You will also need to have the absolute highest levels of patience, as correctional officers will have to work with difficult and challenging inmates who push the boundaries. Finally, those who understand cultural differences and can be respectful of all backgrounds are likely to thrive. This is because they correctional officers will work with different religions, cultures and backgrounds.

Who will struggle in this career?

Firstly, you will struggle with this career if you cannot handle unpredictability, working under pressure or being faced with potentially dangerous situations. Similarly, those who prefer to work with numbers or data opposed to working  with people struggle as a correctional officer.

If you lack self-awareness and have no interest in learning about other cultures, religions, life experiences or backgrounds, you will struggle as a correctional officer as they constantly interact with different types of people. Finally, those who are motivated by earning lots of money will struggle. This is because, although correctional work is not poorly paid, it is not a career to enter if you are looking to earn a six figure salary.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Correctional officers will need the following skills and talents:

  • Active listening skills, as correctional officers will need to be engaged in conversations with prisoners and other prison staff
  • Critical thinking skills are key as correctional officers will work with individuals with all kinds of complex problems and will therefore need to find innovative and creative ways to solve these
  • Organization skills are essential as correctional officers will need organize and manage lots of different prisoners and members of staff
  • Written and verbal communication skills are also essential as correctional officers will need to effectively communicate their ideas verbally and will need to keep documents for others to interpret and understand
  • Emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy and sensitivity, is essential for working with dangerous or unstable people
  • The ability to think on the spot, as prisons are unstable places and things can go wrong. Correctional officers need to be able to quickly think of solutions

Education

To become a correctional officer, you must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. For employment in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals.

Correctional officers will then complete training at an academy. Trainees receive instruction in a number of subjects, including self-defense, institutional policies, regulations, operations, and security procedures. This typically lasts several months, but this varies by state. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training maintains links to states’ Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) programs.

How to Become

Summary

Working with criminals can place correctional officers in all kinds of uncertain situations. Therefore, a career correctional officer is one that is incredibly challenging. Yet, incredibly rewarding, satisfying and fulfilling.

Immediate action

It would be advantageous to get some relevant work experience. Relevant work experience includes things such as working with those who have a mental illness, working in education or volunteering to help rehabilitate criminals and/or substances abusers.

Education and learning

Correctional officers must have at least a high school diploma. For employment in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals.

Skill development

Correctional officers develop their skills through completing training at an academy.This typically lasts several months, but this varies by state. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training maintains links to states’ Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) programs.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Correctional Officer careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33957 Juvenile Detention Officer Female 29 $37,500 Bloomington, IL 01/01/2010
33112 Jail Guard Female 47 $26,000 VICTORIA, BC 01/01/2010
32727 Corrections Officer Female 39 $43,000 Payson, NY 01/01/2010
32544 Correction Officer Male 24 $52,000 Highspire, PA 01/01/2010

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