- The work can be stressful and hazardous.
- Most correctional officers are employed in State and Federal prisons.
- Job opportunities are expected to be excellent.
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. Correctional
officers maintain security and inmate accountability to prevent disturbances,
assaults, and escapes. Officers have no law enforcement responsibilities outside
the institution where they work. (For more information on related occupations,
see the statements on police and
detectives and on probation
officers and correctional treatment specialists, elsewhere in the
Police and sheriffs departments in county and municipal jails or precinct
station houses employ many correctional officers, also known as detention
officers. Most of the approximately 3,400 jails in the United States are
operated by county governments, with about three-quarters of all jails under the
jurisdiction of an elected sheriff. Individuals in the jail population change
constantly as some are released, some are convicted and transferred to prison,
and new offenders are arrested and enter the system. Correctional officers in
local jails admit and process about 12 million people a year, with about 700,000
offenders in jail at any given time. When individuals are first arrested, the
jail staff may not know their true identity or criminal record, and violent
detainees may be placed in the general population. This is the most dangerous
phase of the incarceration process for correctional officers.
Most correctional officers are employed in State and Federal prisons,
watching over the approximately 1.4 million offenders who are incarcerated there
at any given time. Other correctional officers oversee individuals being held by
the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service pending release or deportation,
or work for correctional institutions that are run by private for-profit
organizations. Although both jails and prisons can be dangerous places to work,
prison populations are more stable than jail populations, and correctional
officers in prisons know the security and custodial requirements of the
prisoners with whom they are dealing.
Regardless of the setting, correctional officers maintain order within the
institution and enforce rules and regulations. To help ensure that inmates are
orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor the activities and
supervise the work assignments of inmates. Sometimes, officers must search
inmates and their living quarters for contraband like weapons or drugs, settle
disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline. Correctional officers
periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the
institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards, and any
evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely inspect locks,
window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering. Finally, officers
inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items.
Correctional officers report orally and in writing on inmate conduct and on
the quality and quantity of work done by inmates. Officers also report security
breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They
usually keep a daily log or record of their activities. Correctional officers
cannot show favoritism and must report any inmate who violates the rules. Should
the situation arise, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities
investigate crimes committed within their institution or search for escaped
In jail and prison facilities with direct supervision cellblocks, officers
work unarmed. They are equipped with communications devices so that they can
summon help if necessary. These officers often work in a cellblock alone, or
with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside there. The officers
enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal communications skills
and through the use of progressive sanctions, such as the removal of some
In the highest security facilities, where the most dangerous inmates are
housed, correctional officers often monitor the activities of prisoners from a
centralized control center with closed-circuit television cameras and a computer
tracking system. In such an environment, the inmates may not see anyone but
officers for days or weeks at a time and may leave their cells only for showers,
solitary exercise time, or visitors. Depending on the offenders security
classification within the institution, correctional officers may have to
restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to safely escort them to and from
cells and other areas and to see authorized visitors. Officers also escort
prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other
destinations outside the institution.
Bailiffs, also known as marshals or court officers, are law
enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in courtrooms. Their duties,
which vary by location, include enforcing courtroom rules, assisting judges,
guarding juries from outside contact, delivering court documents, and providing
general security for courthouses.
Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and hazardous. Every
year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates.
Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some correctional
institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but
others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Correctional officers usually work
an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, on rotating shifts. Because prison and jail
security must be provided around the clock, officers work all hours of the day
and night, weekends, and holidays. In addition, officers may be required to work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most institutions require correctional officers to be at least 18 to 21 years
of age and a U.S. citizen; have a high school education or its equivalent;
demonstrate job stability, usually by accumulating 2 years of work experience;
and have no felony convictions. Promotion prospects may be enhanced by obtaining
a postsecondary education.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to
have at least a bachelors degree; or 3 years of full-time experience in a field
providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals; or a
combination of these two requirements.
Correctional officers must be in good health. Candidates for employment are
generally 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
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, specific entry requirements and on-the-job training vary
widely from agency to agency.
Academy trainees generally receive instruction in a number of subjects,
including institutional policies, regulations, and operations, as well as
custody and security procedures. New Federal correctional officers must undergo
200 hours of formal training within the first year of employment. They also must
complete 120 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons
residential training center at Glynco, GA, within 60 days of their appointment.
Experienced officers receive annual in-service training to keep abreast of new
developments and procedures.
Some correctional officers are members of prison tactical response teams,
which are trained to respond to disturbances, riots, hostage situations, forced
cell moves, and other potentially dangerous confrontations. Team members
practice disarming prisoners wielding weapons, protecting themselves and inmates
against the effects of chemical agents, and other tactics.
With education, experience, and training, qualified officers may advance to
the position of correctional sergeant. Correctional sergeants supervise
correctional officers and usually are responsible for maintaining security and
directing the activities of other officers during an assigned shift or in an
assigned area. Ambitious and qualified correctional officers can be promoted to
supervisory or administrative positions all the way up to warden. Officers
sometimes transfer to related jobs, such as probation officers, parole officers,
and correctional treatment specialists.
Bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers held about 484,000 jobs in 2004.
About 3 of every 5 jobs were in State correctional institutions such as prisons,
prison camps, and youth correctional facilities. About 16,000 jobs for
correctional officers were in Federal correctional institutions, and about
15,000 jobs were in privately owned and managed prisons.
Most of the remaining jobs were in city and county jails or in other
institutions run by local governments. Some 300 of these jails, all of them in
urban areas, are large: they house over 1,000 inmates. Most correctional
officers who work in jails, however, work in institutions located in rural areas
with smaller inmate populations.
Job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be excellent. The
need to replace correctional officers who transfer to other occupations, retire,
or leave the labor force, coupled with rising employment demand, will generate
thousands of job openings each year. In the past, some local and State
corrections agencies have experienced difficulty in attracting and keeping
qualified applicants, largely because of low salaries, shift work, and the
concentration of jobs in rural locations. This situation is expected to
Employment of correctional officers is expected to grow more slowly than the average
for all occupations through 2014. Increasing demand for correctional officers
will stem from mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and
reduced parole for inmates, and from expansion and new construction of
corrections facilities. However, mandatory sentencing guidelines are being
reconsidered in many States because of a combination of budgetary constraints,
court decisions, and doubts about their effectiveness. Instead, there may be
more emphasis on reducing sentences or putting offenders on probation or in
rehabilitation programs in many States. As a result, the prison population, and
employment of correctional officers, will probably grow at a slower rate than in
the past. Some employment opportunities also will arise in the private sector,
as public authorities contract with private companies to provide and staff
Layoffs of correctional officers are rare because of increasing offender
populations. While officers are allowed to join bargaining units, they are not
allowed to strike.
Median annual earnings of correctional officers and jailers were $33,600 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,560 and $44,200. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $22,630, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$54,820. Median annual earnings in the public sector were $44,700 in the Federal
Government, $33,750 in State government, and $33,080 in local government. In the
facilities support services industry, where the relatively small number of
officers employed by privately operated prisons is classified, median annual
earnings were $21,490. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the starting
salary for Federal correctional officers was about $26,747 a year in 2005.
Starting Federal salaries were slightly higher in areas where prevailing local
pay levels were higher.
Median annual earnings of first-line supervisors/managers of correctional
officers were $44,720 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $33,070
and $60,550. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,770, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $70,990. Median annual earnings were $41,080 in State
government and $49,470 in local government.
Median annual earnings of bailiffs were $33,870 in May 2004. The middle 50
percent earned between $24,710 and $44,240. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $17,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,770. Median annual
earnings were $30,410 in local government.
In addition to typical benefits, correctional officers employed in the public
sector usually are provided with uniforms or a clothing allowance to purchase
their own uniforms. Civil service systems or merit boards cover officers
employed by the Federal Government and most State governments. Their retirement
coverage entitles correctional officers to retire at age 50 after 20 years of
service or at any age with 25 years of service.
A number of options are available to those interested in careers in
protective services and security.
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers protect people and property
against theft, vandalism, illegal entry, and fire. Police and detectives maintain
law and order, prevent crime, and arrest offenders. Probation officers and correctional
treatment specialists monitor and counsel offenders and evaluate their
progress in becoming productive members of society.
Sources of Additional Information
Further information about correctional officers is available from:
- American Correctional Association, 4380 Forbes Boulevard, Lanham, MD
20706. Internet: http://www.aca.org
- American Jail Association, 1135 Professional Ct., Hagerstown, MD 21740.
Information on entrance requirements, training, and career opportunities for
correctional officers at the Federal level may be obtained from the Federal
Bureau of Prisons. Internet:
Information on obtaining a position as a correctional officer with the
Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through
USAJOBS, the Federal Governments official employment information system. This
resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through
the Internet at
http://www.usajobs.opm.gov or through an interactive voice response
telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not
tollfree, and charges may result.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Correctional Officers, on the Internet at
(visited April 06, 2006).
According to the book description
of Corrections Officer Exam, Hundreds of thousands of candidates apply each
year to become Corrections Officers in municipal, county, state, federal, and
private departments nationwide. The written exam is the tool typically used to
make "the first cut" passing with the highest score is critical to moving
forward in the selection process, and to landing one of these coveted jobs. This
book includes three complete tests based on official exams, with full answer
explanations, and hundreds of additional practice questions; as well as insider
advice on preparing for the physical ability test, oral interview board,
background investigation, and psychological assessment.
According to the book description
of Corrections Officer Exam Secrets, it helps you ace the Corrections Officer
Exam, without weeks and months of endless studying. Our comprehensive
Corrections Officer Exam Secrets study guide is written by our exam experts, who
painstakingly researched every topic and concept that you need to know to ace
your test. Our original research reveals specific weaknesses that you can
exploit to increase your exam score more than you've ever imagined. Corrections
Officer Exam Secrets includes: The 5 Secret Keys to Corrections Officer Test
Success: Time is Your Greatest Enemy, Guessing is Not Guesswork, Practice
Smarter, Not Harder, Prepare, Don't Procrastinate, Test Yourself; A
comprehensive General Strategy review including: Make Predictions, Answer the
Question, Benchmark, Valid Information, Avoid 'Fact Traps', Milk the Question,
The Trap of Familiarity, Eliminate Answers, Tough Questions, Brainstorm, Read
Carefully, Face Value, Prefixes, Hedge Phrases, Switchback Words, New
Information, Time Management, Contextual Clues, Don't Panic, Pace Yourself,
Answer Selection, Check Your Work, Beware of Directly Quoted Answers, Slang,
Extreme Statements, Answer Choice Families; Comprehensive sections including:
Male Inmate Population Commonalities, Private Corrections Industry, The Auburn
System, Unit Management Approach, Responding to a Food Strike, Six Components to
a Housekeeping Plan, Five Elements of a Bomb Plan, Escape and Hostage Plans,
Prison Chaplains, Correct Procedure for a 'Pat-Down', In-Take Procedures,
Strategies for Handling Occupational Stress, Rights of Correctional Officers,
Code of Ethics, Duties of a Supervisor, Supermax and Maximum Security
Facilities, Control Centers and Safety Vestibules, Sentencing Guidelines,
Classifying Inmates, Constitutional Rights of Inmates, Son of Sam Law, First
Amendment Issues, Common Double Jeopardy Issues, Two Elements of 'Deliberate
Indifference', Excessive Force Issues, Common Failure-To-Protect Claims.
According to the book description
of Master the Corrections Officer, Now includes a real exam used in previous
test administrations. Written by the Director of South Carolina Department of
Correction, who has more than 30 years of experience as an employee trainer and
a prison auditor, this versatile guide addresses all federal, state, municipal
and private correction officer exams. Features: 6 full length practice exams;
Intensive subject review and a sample physical fitness course; and, Career
planning advice and information, including salaries, working conditions, and job
According to the book description
of Barron's Correction Officer Exam, Updated to reflect the most recent
requirements for correction officers in jurisdictions across the country,
including sheriff's departments, this manual presents practice in reading
comprehension, math, memory retention, and ability to fill out and process
official forms. The authors, both highly experienced retired law enforcement
officers, also present an overview of correction officers' duties and
requirements. A general brush-up review covers all test topics. New in this
edition is a review of an additional question type that appears on many regional
exams, dealing with coding (i.e., understanding of forms). Also new is addition
of the Correctional Officers' Creed, issued by the international Association of
Correctional Officers, as well as updated guidelines for the oral interview. A
diagnostic test and five full-length practice exams come with answer keys,
diagnostic charts, and answer explanations. All exams are similar in content to
those given across the country.