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Correctional officers oversee and manage individuals who are being detained. That detention might be for short periods of time, such as before a court hearing, or for the long-term, as would be the case with an inmate serving a prison sentence.
Entering a profession as unique as corrections necessitates extensive training and education. However, a formal degree is not required; instead, focused training, both on-the-job and at special academies, will teach correctional officers everything they need to know about handling detainees. This guide will give an overview of correctional officer careers and what it takes to become one, both from an education and training perspective.
What Does a Correctional Officer Do?
Correctional officers have the primary role of maintaining order within a detention facility, such as a local jail or federal prison. The detainees a correctional officer will oversee can be incarcerated for any number of reasons, which run the gamut from awaiting a court hearing for a minor offense to serving on death row. This means that the day-to-day duties of a correctional officer can vary widely. Some will work in transport, taking prisoners to and from court. Some will rarely have contact with prisoners, and will instead work in the administrative areas. Others will work “on the floor” at all times, supervising inmate activities, searching through cells for contraband, overseeing occasional visits with family, escorting inmates to the infirmary and other necessary duties.
Correctional Officer Salaries & Job Growth
The amount of compensation that correctional officers can expect to receive varies greatly. Some higher-paid correctional officers are also located in some of the more expensive areas of the country. To find out more about what correctional officers can expect to make in each state, check out the following map.
Correctional Officer Job Growth
Given the anticipated rise in the number of inmates, the number of correctional officers needed is expected to grow. However, governments are trying to reduce prison costs, so the number of correctional officers needed is not likely to rise at the same rate as the inmate population. The following map provides an overview of what areas are expected to grow at what rate.
Steps to Becoming a Correctional Officer
The most important part of becoming a correctional officer is the proper training. Here's how to get there.
Corrections Degrees & Training
While law enforcement degrees aren't necessary for a career in corrections, training is crucial. Understanding the concepts behind the training can be gained through an education program in corrections, criminal justice or a related degree. Students have several options available when deciding which degree level to pursue. The table below details what students can expect at each level.
|Career Goal & Educational Needs||Certificate||Associate||Bachelor||Master's||Online|
|I already have a full-time job and plenty of experience working in the corrections field. I want to improve my chances of getting promoted and getting higher pay with more responsibility. I also have a desire to learn more about a specialized area in the field.||
|I want to start working as a correctional officer in a federal prison, but I don't have any correctional experience. I also want to make sure my chances for later promotion are as good as possible||
|I'd love to get a degree, but I am so busy with work and family, there's no way I can attend school full-time and take classes on campus during regular business hours. I need a program that allows flexible scheduling of classes and remote learning.||
|Since I already graduated high school, I've gotten all the formal education I need to work as a correctional officer. However, I'd like to take some college level classes to expand my educational horizon and improve my chances of getting accepted into a correctional officer position.||
|I'm not 100% sure I want to work as a corrections officer, but I do know I want to have a career within the justice or legal system. I think a degree is a good way to learn more and show I'm serious about my professional area, but I'm not ready to commit to a four-year degree.||
Preparing for a Correctional Officer Career: Law Enforcement Degrees & Training
There are many educational and training paths an individual can take to begin a correctional officer career; there is no degree type or field of study that corrections officers must take. However, remember that each jurisdiction and department will have its own requirements and expectations. Here's where students can get the education they need.
Vocational and trade schools offer unique opportunities to their students. Some schools provide full degrees, such as the associate, where students can study any number of justice system related subjects, including as criminal justice. Some vocational or trade schools allow high school students to take classes that will count toward college credit.
Military veterans have the discipline, emotional toughness, specialized training and physical fitness that many jail and prison hiring committees like to see. Prior military experience can show that the applicant has what it takes to complete training and familiarity with the hierarchical culture that is often found within correctional officer departments.
For those interested in getting a degree or certificate, a community college offers a quick and economical method of education. Not only can associate degrees be completed in two years or less, the cost per credit is often less, as long as the student comes from an area that the community college serves.
Whether it's at the private, local or state level, there are many training centers or academies that provide tailored training to future correctional officers. Classroom instruction includes custody and control, mental health issues and laws and regulations. Physical training will include things like qualification for firearms and crowd control weapons along with physical fitness training.
For most entry level correctional officer positions, a bachelor's degree is not required; however, it will usually be needed for federal correctional officer entry level jobs. Even if a bachelor's degree isn't required, it can expand the possibilities of future promotions and workplace development.
Types of Correctional Careers and Related Degrees
Though only a high school diploma is required to enter corrections, those who choose to go further with their education might see advantages down the road. Here are the options.
A certificate is a popular choice for students who are already established in a legal related field but seek additional knowledge about corrections. Depending on the school, the certificate can serve as the first step in an associate degree in corrections.
A certificate program is fairly short, rarely lasting longer than six months. It should be noted that the typical certificate curriculum will not include physical training that would be necessary to serve as a correctional officer. Some of the typical classes are detailed below:
Introduction to Criminology
Students learn various concepts, theories and definitions relating to criminal behavior.
Understanding of commonly used criminology definitions
Identification of recent crime trends
Familiarity with theories used to explain crime
Introduction to Corrections
This offers a broad interpretation and explanation of police within society in the United States.
Understanding of various penal policies
Ability to recognize applicability of specific policies and regulations
Knowing issues that normally arise within the corrections realm
Introduction to Law Enforcement
The basic theories and ideas behind criminal punishment and rehabilitation are taught in this class.
Recognition of theories and concepts underlying police activity
Familiarity of the relationship between police and community collaboration
Understanding of historical and future trends in law enforcement and police policies
Associate Degree in Corrections
An associate degree can serve as an opportunity for additional instruction of the correctional field for those already working as a corrections officer. For those not currently working in the field, an associate degree can either meet minimum educational requirements for correctional officer applicants (assuming an associate degree is required) or provide an education to help individuals succeed in their future correctional officer career.
Usually lasting about two years, an associate degree curriculum may include some of the following courses:
Supervision and Control
Students are taught about fundamental concepts and tools for proper and safe oversight of inmates.
Application of control methods in a wide range of settings
Understanding the relationship between crowding of inmates and violence
Knowing the consequences of abusive control methods
Counseling and Interviewing
This is a comprehensive overview of counseling and interviewing techniques for correctional officers.
Modification of inmate behavior using counseling methods
Creation of positive relationships to improve outcomes
Utilization of advanced counseling methods such as transactional analysis
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Students will learn conflict resolution techniques within the abnormal behavioral context.
Identification of many different underlying causes of conflict
Use of crisis management techniques
Familiarity with the effects of incarceration on human psychology
Bachelor's Degree in Corrections, Criminal Justice, or Related
A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, although this timeframe may be accelerated in some programs. A bachelor's degree is good for those who want to work at the federal level, as well as students who may eventually want to go into management, executive or supervisory roles within a correctional facility. A few programs offer a bachelor's degree in corrections, but most offer a criminal justice degree with a specialization in corrections. Either way, students can expect to take the following courses:
Addiction within the Criminal Justice System
Various rehabilitation and intervention tools and methods commonly used in a criminal justice system are discussed in this course.
Familiarity with addiction diagnoses and treatment methods
Ability to factor in cultural or diversity factors with respect to treating addictions within the criminal justice system
Knowledge of clinical diagnosing protocols and definitions with respect to addiction
Students will peruse the background and overview of prison laws and regulations within the United States.
Historical familiarity with penal laws in the United States
Understanding of landmark court cases regarding inmate rights
Application of prison laws to provide proper treatment and oversight of inmates
Students will receive instruction on how jails and prisons operate.
Knowing how and why certain types of inmates are treated differently
Ability to provide risk assessment of the potential for violence
Familiarity with inmate traits that can affect how they should be treated
Master's Degree in Criminal Justice or Related
At the master's level, a corrections degree will be relatively uncommon. However, there are many related degrees that have a corrections component or opportunity for specialization. Types of degrees available include criminal justice, correctional counseling and justice policy and leadership. Courses available will vary depending on the specific program, but typical classes that can be found at the master's level may include:
Students will receive an overview of alternative correctional methods that do not involve prison incarceration.
Familiarity with various community correction methods
Understanding of recent community correction methods, such as intermediate sanctions and drug courts
Traits of effective community correction programs
Juvenile Criminal Justice
Students will be provided an overview of the juvenile criminal justice system.
Appreciation for juvenile justice system
Understanding of legal considerations when dealing with minors
Ability to anticipate future trends in the juvenile justice field
This course covers the administrative component of effective prison and correctional institution management.
Correctional Career Concentrations
There are many careers related to the correctional officer profession. Some of the jobs below are potential jobs that aspiring officers might enjoy pursuing, with yearly salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Probation OfficerMedian salary: $49,360
Probation officers are responsible for keeping track of those released on probationary terms. In addition to monitoring the individual on probation and ensuring they are following the terms of their probation, a probation officer also takes steps to prevent the individual from committing another crime.
Bailiff2015 median salary: $41,670
Bailiffs are tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of courtroom activities. Working largely at the direction of the judge, bailiffs handle courtroom tasks such as escorting litigants, protecting courtroom participants and serving as an informational resource to the general public.
Security Guard2015 median salary: $24,630
Security guards work to protect life and property from harm or theft. Job tasks can include monitoring a given area through visual contact or electronic surveillance, apprehending and detaining violators and controlling who is permitted to enter a protected area.
Police Officer2015 median salary: $58,320
Police officers are tasked with protecting the public and investigating crimes. Very often police officers must apprehend and capture suspects and criminals, then hand them over to a detention facility, such as a jail.
Federal Correctional Officer2015 median salary: $28,650
A federal correctional officer works within the federal prison system, which houses inmates who are being charged with or convicted of a federal crime. The job requirements can include a bachelor's degree or at least three years of experience in correctional or related work.
State Correctional Officer2015 median salary: $28,650 (Protective Service Workers, Other, BLS)
State correctional officers deal with inmates who have violated state law. Generally speaking, the job requirements for state correctional officers are less demanding than for federal correctional officer positions in that a bachelor's degree or several years of correctional experience will not be required as a condition of employment.
Skills, Credentials, Tools & Technology
Correctional officers deal with stressful and dangerous situations; therefore, they must have a set of skills and tools to allow them to do their job effectively and safely. There are also credentials that correctional officers should look into obtaining to improve their chances of professional advancement.
Correctional officers work in close proximity to inmates every single day. A seemingly normal event can become an emergency situation if the right steps aren't initially taken. A correctional officer will also need to be able to distinguish a potential threat from innocent behavior.
Many harmful encounters or serious events that correctional officers will have to face will come without obvious warning. Having keen observational skills can help an officer spot these events before they happen.
One of the major purposes of correctional officers is to keep inmates under control and within their respective jail, prison or detention center. There will be times when a correctional officer's brute strength will be the only thing keeping an inmate in check and secure.
Correctional officers will often have to deal with some of the worst members of society. Correctional officers might also encounter hostile situations and inmates who are trying to get antagonize them. Discipline and composure must be maintained at all times.
Correctional officers will be in communication with colleagues and inmates all the time. As a result, correctional officers must be able to convey directions and orders effectively, especially in stressful situations.
Tools and Technology
Two way radios
Correctional officers receive most of their skills and instruction from on-the-job training as well as local training academies and centers. The opportunity for advancement, promotions and increased responsibility can be improved by obtaining certain credentials. Some of these credentials are certifications, which indicate that the professional holding the certification has a certain amount of relevant knowledge in an area related to their certification. A few of these are listed below.
American Correctional Association
- Certified Corrections Manager
- Certified Corrections Supervisor
- Certified Corrections Officer
- Certified Corrections Supervisor – Security Threat Groups
- Certified Corrections Executive
These certifications can be obtained by passing an exam, having the requisite degree (often a bachelor's or associate degree) and accruing a certain amount of applicable experience.
National Sheriffs' Association
- Certified Jail Officer
- Certified Jail Executive
- Certified Jail Supervisor
Depending on which certification is being sought, the certifications offered by the National Sheriffs' Association require applicants to pass an exam, have a certain amount of relevant work experience and take a minimum number of courses.
Related Careers at a Glance
Median Salary (2015):
High School Diploma
Median Salary (2015):
High School Diploma
Median Salary (2015):
Median Salary (2015):
High School Diploma
Median Salary (2015):
Postsecondary non-degree training
Median Salary (2015):
Postsecondary non-degree training
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
what do related occupations make ?
Graduates of criminal justice programs are passionate about public safety. Similar jobs include police officer, detective, probation officer, and security guard. All of these professions enable the employee to protect the citizens in and around their geographic area.
Criminal Justice and Correctional Career Resources & Degrees
American Correctional AssociationThe mission of the ACA is to advance education, research and public perception of the corrections field, as well as improve diversity and promote professional development, including offering certifications.
American Jail AssociationA nonprofit organization that represents the interests of professionals who work in jails and other local detention centers, the AJA provides educational and professional advancement opportunities for its members.
American Probation and Parole AssociationServing as an international organization, the APPA represents the interests of various justice system professionals, such as parole, probation, correctional and pretrial professionals.
Correctional Peace Officers FoundationThe CPOF is a charitable organization with the noble mission of helping family survivors of those who have died in the line of duty serving as correctional officers.
Corrections USACUSA works to improve the standing of correctional officers at all levels of government. The CUSA also works against the movement to privatize the prison system.
Federal Bureau of PrisonsThe FBP is a federal agency tasked with managing and improving the federal justice system. Roles include improving the care of federal inmates and improving the overall service provided by federal prisons.
Related Careers at a Glance
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