Career ProfileCorrections Officer

What is a Corrections Officer?

Individuals who are assertive, disciplined, strong communicators with robust interpersonal skills may have what it takes to pursue a career as a corrections officer.

Corrections officers work in jails or prisons, and their chief purpose is maintaining security by supervising those who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, or those who have already been sentenced and are incarcerated. They have no law enforcement obligations outside their workplace.

Day-to-day duties include imposing jail rules and keeping order, counseling inmates and aiding in rehab, inspecting cells and facilities, searching inmates for contraband (weapons or drugs) and writing daily logs and incident/behavior reports. They also have to restrain inmates to escort them safely from place to place. Successful corrections officers ensure that inmates obey rules, thus preventing disturbances, assaults and escapes.

How do good corrections officers enforce the rules? Effective, tactful communication is a major first step. However, if that fails, and an inmate must be punished, an officer will employ the use of ‘progressive sanctions,’ which begin with the inmate losing certain privileges, and progress to more serious punishments such as solitary confinement or work detail.

Expectations: Salary and Career Outlook

The salaries for corrections officers vary depending upon location, experience, the size of employer and other factors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for corrections officers in 2012 was $39,970. This job is expected to grow five percent by 2022.

Exceptional corrections officers who hold either a B.A. in Criminal Justice or an M.A. in Criminal Justice Leadership will have greater earning and advancement potential. This could include promotions to correctional sergeant, warden or other supervisory or administrative positions.

Workplace Environment

It is normal for corrections officers to have to work outdoors, especially when supervising work detail. Workplace conditions can vary; some are clean and temperature-controlled, but older facilities can be overcrowded, noisy and uncomfortable.

Jails and prisons must be completely secured 24-7. Therefore, corrections officers normally work on rotating, eight-hour shifts. From a physical perspective, officers may be required to stand on their feet for many hours at a time. Night, weekend and holiday hours should be expected, and many officers must work overtime. Depending on where they work, some corrections officers have longer shifts and more days off.

Education, Special Skills and other Qualifications

While many entry-level positions require only a high school diploma, some state and federal institutions require a college education. Anyone interested in becoming a corrections officer would do well to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice. For employment in federal prisons, candidates are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and/or three years of full-time experience in counseling, assistance or supervision.

Candidates who get their foot in the door for an open position are then required to go through a training academy similar to police academy. They are then assigned to a facility for on-the-job training. Applicants must be 18 years old, must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and must have no felony convictions. Those applying for positions in federal corrections must be hired before they turn 37.

When it comes to special qualities that make a successful corrections officer, those who possess sound judgment, negotiating skills, physical strength, resourcefulness and self-discipline will find a natural fit.