Correctional officers provide protection and security on the front lines of our detention and penitentiary facilities. You can learn how to become a correctional officer with the information and resources provided below.
What Does a Correctional Officer Do?
Correctional officers, or detention officers when employed at pretrial facilities, serve as enforcement officials on the inside of county, state, federal, and private jails and prisons. Correctional officers are not held responsible for law enforcement beyond the outer walls of their employing institution and hold no greater authority than a private citizen when out in the world at large. Here are a few of the general duties that a correctional officer can expect to perform on any given day:
- Maintain security and ensure inmate accountability
- Prevent escapes, assaults and other disruptive behavior
- Enforce institutional rules and regulations
- Supervise inmates on work assignments
- Occasionally search individuals, living quarters or mail for contraband
- Inspect holding mechanisms (locks, gates, window bars) for tampering
- Submit oral and written reports on inmate conduct and work quality
Most correctional officers are assigned to a single cell block, which they may work alone or in tandem alongside another officer.
In prison settings with the highest level of security precautions in place, where inmates present the greatest risk for dangerous or disruptive behavior, correctional officers may be assigned surveillance from a centralized control room rather than walk a cell block floor. These environments use electronic tracking systems, such as radio-frequency identification, to keep tabs on the prison population.
Steps to Becoming a Correctional Officer
If you are interested in learning how to become a correctional officer, know that the path depends greatly on the type of facility in which you plan to work. The following steps are for prospective employment at a federal facility, which requires the most advanced level of education and training:
- Get your high school diploma. A high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED) is the most basic requirement to become a correctional officer. Make sure to take advanced coursework in the social sciences, such as sociology and psychology. Keep in mind that any convictions for use or sale of narcotics, or any felony offense will disqualify you from becoming a correctional officer.
- Earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Alternatively, three years experience providing full-time counseling or supervision may in some cases be enough to work in a federal facility. State or county correctional institutions may require a certain amount of college credit, military experience or law enforcement training and field work before employment can be considered.
- Attend a corrections officer training academy. Training is based on American Correctional Association and American Jail Association guidelines and focuses on institutional policies, regulations and operations, and custody and security procedures. Correctional officer training should include firearms training, chemical agents training, and arrest and control techniques
- Complete on-the-job training. Once hired, a rookie correctional officer undergoes up to 200 hours of in-house formal training at their detention or penitentiary facility.
How do I Become a GREAT Correctional Officer?
There are several things you can do throughout your career as a correctional officer to ensure you are the best you can be.
- Stay in Shape: Keep yourself in good physical health, and consider visiting a firing range to stay sharp on important firearm skills.
- Continue Your Education: It is important for correctional officers to continue training and instruction throughout the duration of employment to keep informed about newly developed tools and procedures.
- Consider Further Specializations: Corrections officers may choose to specialize in other areas of criminal justice, such as probation officers, correctional treatment specialists or correction health professionals. To become a correctional health professional, you need to complete a degree in nursing, medicine or therapy.
- Get Promoted: Correctional officers with outstanding employment records stand a decent chance of being promoted to correctional sergeants. Those with ambition, skill and appropriate qualifications may find themselves climbing as high in the ranks as warden. Opportunities also exist for correctional officers who wish to transfer to positions in correctional treatment, probation or parole enforcement.
Resources for Jailers and Correctional Officers
- Correctional Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm
- Correctional Officers and Jailers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333012.htm