Correctional Officer Career Path

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Correctional Officer Career Path

If you’re looking for a career that is both challenging and rewarding, consider becoming a correctional officer. This profession offers many opportunities for growth and advancement, and it’s a great way to make a difference in your community. Read on to learn more about this profession and its required training, education, salary, and job outlook.

1. What Is a Correctional Officer?

A correctional officer is a law enforcement professional who maintains order in jails, prisons, and other types of penal institutions. Correctional officers are employed by federal, state, or local governments. Others are employed by private companies that provide correctional services to jail and prison systems. Sometimes referred to by the acronym CO, these responsibilities may include searching inmates for contraband, supervising inmate behavior, enforcing regulations, and writing reports.

There are many career opportunities in corrections for people who want to work outside law enforcement but still pursue a law enforcement career. Correctional officers and jailers enforce rules and regulations and supervise inmates according to the philosophy of their institution. Many correctional officers in state prisons or federal penitentiaries must be trained in self-defense techniques and weapons use because they may face aggressive inmates.

2. What Kinds of Correctional Officers Are There?

There are four main types of correctional officers. Correctional officers in the city or local jails detain suspects, conduct investigations, and maintain order within correctional facilities. Those who work in state or federal prisons supervise inmates. Transportation officers transport inmates to and from court proceedings or medical appointments, supervise transfers of prisoners to other jurisdictions, and may question individuals suspected of committing crimes. In addition, there are corrections officers who supervise juveniles in boot camps or detention centers.

Transportation officers may spend a lot of their time on the road. They typically work long shifts far from home and must be prepared to handle a wide range of duties. For example, they might escort inmates outside the prison for medical treatment or court appearances. Transportation officers may be required to assist in preparing legal documents, such as warrants. They must be prepared to use force if the security of the inmate or others is threatened, and they also must inform inmates of their rights while ensuring all prison rules are followed.

3. What Are the Responsibilities of a Correctional Officer?

The responsibilities of a correctional officer depend upon his or her employer. A city jailer might be responsible for maintaining order within the facility. A transportation officer would be responsible for protecting the safety of inmates and staff members while on the road. Someone working in state prison would also supervise inmates, but he or she may work with prisoners who are incarcerated for violent crimes, such as murder or rape. The federal prison system houses inmates who have been convicted of a variety of offenses.

There are several common duties that correctional officers must perform, regardless of the type of facility where they work. Correctional officers must be prepared to respond to emergencies at any time, so training in self-defense techniques and weapons use is common for this profession. Correctional officers must be vigilant and monitor the behavior of inmates to ensure safety within a facility. They must issue orders in a clear and respectful manner because inmates may become agitated by misunderstandings.

Officers also must monitor the activities of prisoners who work outside their cells each day, such as those who prepare meals or do janitorial work. Correctional officers may work with inmates in a rehabilitation program, such as drug detoxification or community service. Officers must maintain records of all incidents related to their facility and complete reports when required. If they are responsible for transporting prisoners outside the facility, they must ensure that transfer paperwork is complete before departing. Correctional officers also must prepare daily reports before turning in their weapons and other equipment.

4. What Are the Education Requirements?

Typically, correctional officer candidates need at least a high school diploma and some advanced formal training in law enforcement. Many institutions provide initial training for correctional officers; the length of this training may vary by institution or by state. Some positions only require on-the-job training after the candidate is hired, but most positions require formal instruction. This initial training covers areas such as custody policies, defensive tactics, first aid, radio use, and fire safety. Once the employees are trained, they must receive annual refresher training.

5. What Are the Physical Requirements?

The physical demands of correctional officer jobs vary by employer and assignment. Correctional officers typically spend their workdays walking the floor of the facility. They may make rounds on foot or drive through the grounds in a vehicle, but correctional officers must be prepared to chase down an out-of-control inmate if necessary. Some positions require frequent lifting and carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. Correctional officers also may need to use force against inmates who are acting out, so they must be prepared to make physical contact with inmates.

6. What Type of Salary Do Correctional Officers Earn?

Salaries for correctional officers vary by the size and location of the facility where they work, as well as by other factors. In New York City, a starting salary for a jailer is approximately $41,000 per year. A state prison warden earns an average of $74,000 per year. Transportation officers start at around $35,000 annually and can earn as much as $61,000 with overtime pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for correctional officers was approximately $38,600 in 2010.

7. What Skills Will I Need?

Some of the skills you need to become a correctional officer are:

• Verbal Communication: Correctional officers must be able to issue instructions and orders in a clear and respectful manner.

• Physical Strength: An officer’s physical strength comes into play when subduing unruly inmates.

• Tactical Skills: Officers should be familiar with first aid, emergency response, and self-defense techniques.

• Integrity: Officers must be trustworthy and able to resist bribery. They’re required to file reports when they’ve used force against an inmate, for example.

• Observation Skills: Correctional officers must monitor the activities of inmates at all times.

• Interpersonal Skills: Officers are responsible not only for enforcing rules but also for helping with rehabilitation efforts. They must have the ability to communicate with inmates and read situations in order to resolve tense situations peacefully.

• Social Perceptiveness: Correctional officers must be able to sense when something is wrong in an inmate’s living environment, such as when hygiene needs aren’t being met.

• Judgement Ability: Officers need good judgment skills in order to make quick, appropriate decisions

8. How Long Does it Take to Become a Correctional Officer?

Correctional officer positions are available in both federal and local correctional facilities. The requirements to work as a correctional officer vary by institution, but some basic requirements are necessary for most positions.

The typical route to becoming a correctional officer at the state or federal level begins with between six months and one year of formal training that can be completed at technical schools, colleges, universities, or the military. This training involves basic correctional procedures and covers areas such as custody policies, defensive tactics, first aid, radio use, and fire safety. Once the employees are trained, they must receive annual refresher training.

9. What Are the Best Ways to Get Started?

The first thing to do is see if you meet the basic requirements for a correctional officer position. The minimum age for correctional officers is usually between 18 and 21, depending on the state. In some states, holding a driver’s license may be required as well as being a high-school graduate or having a GED.

In many cases, correctional officers must pass a physical exam and a drug screening before they’re hired. They also must pass tests that measure their verbal and numerical ability, as well as general aptitude.

If you meet the minimum requirements, find out if there are any openings at particular facilities in your area. There’s no national job listing service for correctional officer positions, so you’ll probably need to contact the institutions directly.

Once there are openings, applicants must go through a formal application process. This can include interviews and written exams. Applicants may also be required to go through background checks and medical examinations at this time.

10. What Is the Job Outlook for a Correctional Officer?

The BLS predicts that the number of job opportunities for correctional officers will grow by 9 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is slower than average compared with other professions. In addition, many positions are available only at local and state levels. Candidates who are currently employed as correctional officers may have an easier time finding new jobs if they switch employers.

11. Where Does Correctional Officer Work?

Correctional officers work at jails, prisons, and other facilities that hold people who have been arrested or convicted of a crime.

The BLS estimates that the largest number of correctional officer jobs are available in California, Texas, New York, and Florida. There were also many job opportunities in the District of Columbia, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as Georgia, Illinois, and Ohio.

Many people who pursue careers as correctional officers also have degrees or previous experience in the following careers:

  1. Police Officer
  2. Probation Officer
  3. Substitute Teacher
  4. Social Worker
  5. Law Enforcement Officer or Investigator


Correctional Officers work for the state or federal government and are responsible for maintaining order in correctional facilities. They may also be assigned to other duties such as transporting prisoners, supervising them during work projects outside of prison, and providing first aid treatment on site. Correctional officers need a high school diploma, but they do not have any educational requirements beyond that. All states require some form of law enforcement training before correction officer certification is granted; however, there is no uniform curriculum across all jurisdictions, so many corrections officials rely heavily on their own experience to prepare themselves for this career field.

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