About the Job Title "Detention Officer"

Detention Officer Job Description

A detention officer assists police and custody sergeants in processing people who have been arrested and detained in a police custody suite. To become a detention officer, you will need a high school diploma (or equivalent) and to complete relevant training.

Detention Officer Job Profiles: This is a general writeup based on our research into Detention Officer positions in the Correctional Officer career area. For individual, real-life job profiles of actual people with this type of job, check out our job profiles page.

What's it like to be a Detention Officer?

Duties and responsibilities

A detention officer assists police and custody sergeants in processing people who have been arrested and detained in a police custody suite. They are responsible for ensuring the welfare of detained people and ensuring they are cared for correctly. Their duties and responsibilities include:

  • Assisting the custody Sergeant with general admin and the running of the custody suite, as directed. Including the completion of mandatory aspects of the booking-in procedure for detainees (e.g., taking of fingerprints, photographs, and DNA samples)
  • Recognising and reviewing all factors relating to the dignity and wellbeing of detainees
  • Preparing and serving all food and drink to detained people
  • Ensuring compliance with food hygiene regulations
  • Monitoring the custody suite to ensure the general cleanliness and hygiene of the custody facility
  • Undertaking searches or assist with searches of detained persons and cells
  • Performing regular scheduled checks on detained persons in cells and notify the Custody Sergeant of any changes in behaviour or well-being
  • Supporting representatives from other areas (legal advisors, healthcare or liaison) to ensure the movement and care of detainees are met and comply with legislative and national and local procedures.
  • Receiving, recording and storing detainees and evidential property in compliance with force policy and data protection legislation to ensure the accurate return and/or transfer of property.


To become a detention officer, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent. To work at the federal prison level, a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as social work, criminal justice or behavioural science, is necessary.

Furthermore, detention officers must pass a comprehensive and in-depth background check to ensure they have no criminal convictions. It is also likely that they will have to pass extensive physical and situational tests to prove that they are fit to work in such a dangerous setting. After this, detention officers will need complete a training program sponsored by the state or federal government. Finally, at the end of this training, all detention officers will be expected to pass a certification test.

Skills and relevant work experience

As well as the training requirements,  detention officers will need skills such as:

  • Decision making skills, as they will often need to be able to make on the spot decisions. Some of the decisions could save their lives, or the lives of their colleagues
  • Empathy as detention officers will work closely with criminals and people who have will need be able to relate to their feelings
  • Emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy and sensitivity, is essential for working with dangerous or unstable people
  • Organization skills are essential as detention officers will need organize and manage lots of detainees
  • Communication skills, both written and verbal, as juvenile probation officers will need to clearly communicate their ideas with other professionals, the offender and their family. They will also need to keep up-to-date and detail documentation


Detention officers will normally work normal full-time hours. Due to detention centers needing around the clock security, detention officers can expect to work weekends, evenings and holidays. They may also be expected to work overtime too.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a detention 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. Detention officers can expect to earn in this range.


With further training and experience, detention officers can progress to more senior roles. For example, such roles include being a custody sergeant or senior correctional officer.

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