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Prison Guard: Job and Training Requirement

Research what it takes to become a prison guard. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Prison Guard?

A prison guard works with inmates in a prison or jail to ensure that rules and regulations are followed. They monitor inmates at all times and work to prevent disturbances, assaults and escapes. Their duties may involve searching for contraband, settling disputes, enforcing discipline and instituting sanctions for rule breaking. They may also inspect facilities for cleanliness and security, monitor inmate mail, escort inmates between institutions and write daily reports on what occurred during their shift. The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma; some agencies may require some college
Training Required Training at a correctional officer training academy is generally required
Education Field of Study Corrections, counseling, criminal justice
Key Responsibilities Supervise inmate activities; enforce facility rules; search inmates and cells for contraband; maintain order and ensure safe environment
Job Growth (2018-2028) -7%* (all correctional officers and jailers)
Median Salary (2018) $44,330* (all correctional officers and jailers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Duties Would I Have as a Prison Guard?

Prison guards, also called correctional officers, supervise and counsel convicted criminals and inmates in prisons, jails and juvenile corrections facilities. You would maintain order among inmates, accompany inmates throughout the facility and follow all rules and policies regarding the security, safety and human rights of inmates. As a prison guard, you might need to examine prisoners and their living spaces for weapons and illegal items. You would work with a constantly changing population of prisoners who have been recently arrested, convicted or transferred from other facilities.

You would prevent security breaches and breakouts by regularly checking locks, windows and other possible areas for escape for signs of damage. If inmates break the rules or cause disturbances or violence, you would hold them responsible for their actions.

What Education Do I Need?

You would need a high school diploma or GED for any job in this field. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires prison guards in entry-level positions to have a bachelor's degree or three years of full-time experience in a related field. You might need also some college credits to work for some state and local agencies. You could attend an undergraduate certificate program in corrections to prepare for a career as a prison guard. You could take courses such as as criminal justice, corrections and psychology. You could also enroll in an associate's or bachelor's degree program in corrections or criminal justice. Some programs offer internships at correctional facilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some corrections departments offer corrections officer training programs that cover the fundamentals of the profession, including firearms training, self-defense and legal issues. At the federal level, corrections officers must complete 200 hours of training in their first year on the job, as well as 120 hours of training through the Federal Bureau of Prisons within 60 days of obtaining their position.

To become a prison guard at the GS-05 grade level, you would need a bachelor's degree or three years of work experience, which could include counseling, providing emergency services, managing or supervising others, teaching or working in sales. At the GS-06 level, you would be required to complete some graduate work in criminology, criminal justice, social science or law. Employment at a mental health facility is also an acceptable form of experience. You must be below 37 years of age to qualify for a job at this level.

How Can I Get Experience?

If you have worked in teaching or instructing, counseling, probation or parole, social work, emergency services or childcare, you may already have the skills and experience to find work at the GS-05 grade level. At the GS-06 grade level, it would help to have experience as a detention officer, police officer, border patrol agent, state trooper, sheriff or mental health worker. Volunteer experiences also qualify as work experience.

What Other Qualifications Must I Meet?

You would need to be at least 18-21 years of age, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have a clean criminal record. To apply for federal positions, you must be under 37 years of age. You must be healthy, meet physical fitness standards, pass vision and hearing tests, pass drug tests, consent to a background check and pass a written test. Having good judgment, thinking quickly and taking prompt action are important in this field.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several careers which require similar skills as a prison guard, such as a security guard. Security guards can work in a wide variety of environments, including office buildings, stores, and shopping malls, where they monitor and protect properties as well as enforce rules and laws. Gaming surveillance officers provide a similar service at casinos. Both of these positions generally only require one to have a high school diploma. Probation officers or community supervision officers are other career options, though these positions often require a bachelor's degree. These individuals work with people on probation to ensure they are not a danger to the community and to track their rehabilitation. Most work exclusively with either juveniles or adults.