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Correctional Officer Career

Career Description

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or penitentiary.

Common Work Tasks

  • Maintain security and inmate accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes
  • Maintain order within the institution and enforce rules and regulations
  • Monitor the activities and supervise the work assignments of inmates
  • Search inmates and their living quarters for contraband like weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline
  • Inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards,  and any evidence of infractions of rules
  • Inspect locks, window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering
  • Inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items
  • Report orally and in writing on inmate conduct and on the quality and quantity of work done by inmates
  • Report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences

Other Job Titles

Correctional Officers are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Detention Officer
  • Police Officer
  • Correctional Treatment Specialist
  • Surveillance Officer
  • Jailer

Education, Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  A high school diploma or graduation equivalency degree is required by all employers.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree; 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals; or a combination of the two. Some State and local corrections agencies require some college credits, but law enforcement or military experience may be substituted to fulfill this requirement.

Federal, State, and some local departments of corrections provide training for correctional officers based on guidelines established by the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. Some States have regional training academies that are available to local agencies. At the conclusion of formal instruction, all State and local correctional agencies provide on-the-job training, including training on legal restrictions and interpersonal relations. Many systems require firearms proficiency and self-defense skills. Officer trainees typically receive several weeks or months of training in an actual job setting under the supervision of an experienced officer. However, on-the-job training varies widely from agency to agency.

  All institutions require correctional officers to be at least 18 to 21 years of age, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have no felony convictions. Some require previous experience in law enforcement or the military, but college credits can be substituted to fulfill this requirement. Others require demonstration of job stability,  usually by accumulating 2 years of work experience, which need not be related to corrections or law enforcement.

Correctional officers must be in good health. Candidates for employment generally are required to meet formal standards of physical fitness, eyesight, and hearing. In addition, many jurisdictions use standard tests to determine applicant suitability to work in a correctional environment. Good judgment and the ability to think and act quickly are indispensable. Applicants are typically screened for drug abuse,  subject to background checks, and required to pass a written examination.


The median annual salary for Correctional Officers is $36,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $62,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $25,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of correctional officers are:

  • State Government - $40,600
  • Local Government - $38,940
  • Facilities Support Services - $32,440
  • Federal Executive Branch - $48,550
  • Other Residential Care Facilities - $27,090

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  16%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 82,000
  • Employment 2006 : 500,000
  • Employment 2016:  582,000
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