Correctional Officer: Career Summary, Employment Outlook and Education Requirements

The main purpose of a correctional officer's position is to monitor arrested individuals, either prior to trial or after conviction. On-the-job training is provided for most correctional officers; however, those who work at the federal level typically have some college education, such as a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Schools offering Corrections degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Those interested in both law enforcement and criminal rehabilitation should consider a career as a corrections officer. Little formal education is required for positions in the field of corrections, where officers gain experience by working directly with prisoners, wardens, and other officers. However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires a bachelor's degree or full-time experience. A career in corrections would be a good match for someone who appreciates order, respects the law, and can maintain a calm demeanor.

Education High school diploma or equivalent; bachelor's degree or 1-3 years of related full-time experience required for positions within federal prisons
Training On-the-job training is generally provided over several months; topics may include regulations, security procedures, policies, and self-defense
Average Salary (2017)* $47,600 per year (correctional officers and jailers)
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* 8% decline (correctional officers and jailers)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Corrections Officer Do?

A correctional officer enforces order in a local jail or prison. He or she is responsible only for enforcement within the institution where they are employed, not in the community. The role of the correctional officer is to prevent security breaches, altercations between inmates, and potential escapes. Officers must sometimes conduct searches of inmates' living areas and inspect conditions within the facility. Ambitious officers may find themselves promoted to administrative or supervisory jobs in large prisons or small jail facilities.

Here are some of the skills and qualities that a corrections officer should have:

  • Interpersonal communication
  • Decision-making
  • Negotiating
  • Attention to detail
  • Physical strength

What Education Is Required?

The minimum education required for most correctional officer positions is a high school diploma or equivalent. Most officers are trained on-the-job; however, those employed by federal prisons must have a bachelor's degree to be eligible. Some college is required by state corrections agencies, but experience in the military or law enforcement may help fulfill that requirement. For those interested in being promoted, some form of college education may help an officer's chances of getting to a higher-ranking position.

What Is the Job Market Like?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that in 2016 there were roughly 450,000 correctional officers and jailers employed in the United States. Employment is expected to decline 8 percent for correctional officers and jailers between 2016 and 2026.

What Salary Can I Expect?

The BLS stated that the average annual salary for correctional officers in May of 2017 was $47,600. Salary figures do vary by location in the country and can range significantly. For example, correctional officers in California made an average of $71,630 per year in 2017, while those employed in Texas in 2017 earned an average of $41,420 according to the BLS.

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