How to Become a Correctional Officer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a correctional officer. Learn about job duties, education requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Corrections degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Correctional Officer Do?

Correctional officers work in prisons, jails and juvenile correctional facilities, where they monitor inmates. They must enforce rules, meet security and safety standards, and report inmate conduct. They're also responsible for aiding in prisoner rehabilitation and preventing disturbances, violence and escapes. Cells must be checked for unsanitary conditions and contraband. Take a look at the table below to find out the key requirements for working in this profession.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent for most entry-level positions; bachelor's degree for positions in federal prisons
Training Required Training academy and certification exam
Key Responsibilities Monitor inmates, conduct inspections, transport inmates and conduct searches for contraband
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% (for correctional officers and bailiffs)*
Median Salary (2015) $40,580 (for correctional officers and bailiffs)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Correctional Officer?

A correctional officer is a law enforcement worker who monitors inmates and enforces rules at jails, prisons and youth correctional facilities. Their specific duties include patrolling a facility, observing inmates in-person or via surveillance cameras and explaining facility rules to new inmates. Correctional officers also conduct head counts and inspect the security of bars, doors, windows and locks. They may also search personal mail, cells and prisoners for contraband and record prisoner information, including ID, criminal charges, daily activity and rule violations. Other duties include transporting inmates from one facility to another and restoring order after fights or riots.

Step 1: Improve Your Fitness

Mental and physical fitness will better enable you to cope with the daily stress of working in a correctional facility. Participation in team sports can increase your strength, stamina, perceptivity, communication skills and commitment to completing difficult assignments. And, your overall physical fitness may be a factor in gaining employment.

Step 2: Acquire Formal Education or Experience

A high school diploma or GED is the minimum educational requirement if you're seeking work at a local detention facility. Local and state level authorities may require college credit but may also allow you to substitute military experience. To work in a federal prison, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (www.bop.gov) specifies three years of full-time experience providing supervision or counseling, a bachelor's degree or some combination of the two.

Certificate programs in corrections are open to people employed in the field or those wishing to enter it. Programs last a year or less. You can expect to complete introductory-level courses in criminology, criminal justices, psychology, sociology and institutional procedures.

Step 3: Apply for Jobs

You may find employment with local, state or federal law enforcement agencies. City jails, county jails, state penitentiaries, federal prisons, immigration detainee sites, prison camps and juvenile detention centers are among the facilities where you might work. Applicants must pass a physical exam, drug screening and a written test. The median salary of correctional officers and bailiffs as of May 2015 was $40,580.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reports that around 474,800 people worked as correctional officers and bailiffs in 2014. From 2014-2024, employment was projected to increase four percent and create 17,900 new jobs. A decrease in crime, budget constraints and shorter sentences were predicted to lead to lower incarceration rates and thus lower demand for officers.

Step 4: Complete Officer Training

Most employers will have you undergo specialized officer training once you've been hired. Training is conducted on-the-job and typically follows guidelines set by the American Correctional Association or the American Jail Association. Use of firearms, self-defense and the rules, regulations and work procedures of your employing institution are likely topics of instruction.

Step 5: Obtain Certification

The American Jail Association offers the Certified Jail Officer (CJO) credential if you meet its qualifications. CJO certification requires at least two years of full time employment in corrections and passage of a certification exam. Certification lasts four years, after which you must renew either by passing the exam again or by accumulating 80 hours of additional training.

The American Correctional Association offers certifications in four categories - adult, juvenile, health care and security threat group. The adult category has four levels of certification:

  • Certified Corrections Officer (CCO)
  • Certified Corrections Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Corrections Manager (CCM)
  • Certified Corrections Executive (CCE)

The juvenile category has an equivalent set of four:

  • Certified Corrections Officer/Juvenile (CCO/Juv)
  • Certified Corrections Supervisor/Juvenile (CCS/Juv)
  • Certified Corrections Manager/Juvenile (CCM/Juv)
  • Certified Corrections Executive/Juvenile (CCE/Juv)

The base level CCO and CCO/Juv certifications require a high school diploma and GED, one year of corrections work experience and passage of the CCO or CCO/Juv exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One related career is security guarding and gaming surveillance. These officers focus on protecting properties against theft and other illegal activity. Individuals interested in responding directly to crime on the street can become police officers, which also requires graduating from a training academy. Earning a bachelor's degree opens opportunities with the FBI or DEA. If the goal is to help rehabilitate prisoners, work as a probation officer might be more appropriate, since probation officers help transition ex-prisoners smoothly into society. However, probation officers also need a bachelor's degree, typically in an area like social work or criminal justice.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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