Becoming a Corrections Officer: Job Description & Salary Info

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A corrections officer's median annual salary is around $40,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about the career outlook to find out if becoming a corrections officer is right for you.
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Becoming a Corrections Officer: Pros and Cons

Corrections officers are responsible for prisoner supervision and maintaining authority within a correctional facility. Consider the following pros and cons when deciding if this is the field for you.

PROS of Becoming a Corrections Officer
High school diploma may be sufficient for entry-level work*
Many positions offer a steady 40-hour week schedule*
Paid overtime is available*
Daily tasks may take place inside or outside*

CONS of Becoming a Corrections Officer
Low median salary (around $40,000 as of May 2014 for correctional officers and jailers)
Work may be dangerous as well as stressful (corrections officers have a high on-the-job injury rate)*
Evening, holiday and weekend work are often required*
Some positions may require officers to work overtime*
Work environments may vary (some are modern buildings, while others are old and crowded)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Although corrections officers have no law enforcement authority outside the correctional facility, these professionals do have a great deal of authority and responsibility within the prison or jail. Key duties include enforcing the rules, maintaining discipline and supervising inmates. In some high-security facilities, officers may monitor the cellblock using closed-circuit camera networks and electronic tracking devices. In other facilities, corrections officers spend large portions of their shifts walking through the cellblock. If you become a corrections officer, you may be tasked with searching cells, mail and inmates for contraband, narcotics or weapons as well as checking visitors.

When moving prisoners, officers may sometimes be required to use handcuffs or leg restraints. Contrary to popular opinion, working in a prison may be a safer, more stable work environment than working in a jail. Prison populations are typically kept at steady levels, and the prison staff generally has a better knowledge of the inmates and the measures needed to work with them safely. If an incident does arise, officers will document that incident, in addition to filling out the daily reports of activities, so excellent written communications skills are an advantage.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014, corrections officers and jailers earned a median annual wage of around $40,000 (www.bls.gov). While promotional opportunities within this field are limited, experienced officers may advance to the sergeant's level, which allows the officer to supervise others and manage a shift or area of the facility. The median annual wage for managers and first-line supervisors was around $58,000. The BLS predicted that corrections officers would see employment growth of only five percent between 2012 and 2022. Job growth in the private sector may increase, since some public agencies contract with private companies for staffing needs or facilities due to budget constraints.

Education and Training Requirements

All corrections agencies require applicants to have either a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some local and state agencies require some college experience, while federal jobs require a college degree. Prior military or law enforcement work may be substituted for educational requirements in some cases.

Training Programs

Most employers have new corrections officers attend a training academy, where the employees learn the needed skills on the job. These programs may take several weeks or even as long as six months to complete, depending on the agency. New-hire training covers the following topics:

  • Security processes
  • Regulations and procedures
  • Custody policies
  • Report writing

Job Postings from Real Employers

Aspiring correctional officers must be at least 18 years old, although some agencies require applicants to be 21. Agencies usually prefer U.S. citizens, although some will hire legal residents. To qualify for employment, aspiring officers must pass background checks and drug tests as well as complete a physical and pass a written exam. Below are some job postings from CareerBuilder.com and USAJobs.gov in February 2012:

  • A federal agency seeking corrections officers requires entry-level applicants to have a bachelor's degree in any field, although those with degrees in areas like social science, criminology, law or criminal science may qualify for more advanced positions and higher pay.
  • A private corrections firm requires applicants in Texas to have passed a state-approved correctional officer college program or training academy.
  • A Maryland state agency requires officers to have a valid driver's license, while some positions require the officer to have a Class C driver's license in order to transport prisoners via transport vans.
  • A private corrections company in Texas prefers applicants who can work up to 16 hours in a 24-hour shift and those with excellent attendance.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Since all corrections facilities and agencies require new employees to complete a corrections officer training program, you might consider completing this training before finding employment. These programs may be offered by state agencies or community colleges. Some training programs require you to have an employment offer before enrolling, while others allow anyone to enroll, provided the person passes a required background check.

Although aspiring correctional officers can find employment with a high school diploma, obtaining additional education may improve your prospects. According to the BLS, some employers may require some college experience or a college degree. Therefore, obtaining an associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field may make you more attractive to an employer.

The BLS also notes that federal prison jobs require a bachelor's degree or prior work experience in law enforcement, supervision or counseling. In some prisons, inmate rehabilitation is an important factor, and iSeek.org notes that these facilities may ask corrections officers to lead self-help classes. Therefore, taking classes or earning a degree in psychology or a related field might be beneficial. Moreover, the BLS noted that some career advancement options for corrections officers include additional training in correctional counseling or correctional health.

Other Careers to Consider

Police or Probation Officer

Some aspiring corrections officers decide this field isn't for them due to the risks involved, the low salary and the often rural setting. Some related positions, such as that of a police officer or probation officer, may be more attractive. While police officers and probation officers share some of the same physical risks and shift work requirements that corrections officers do, both positions tend to pay better. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a median annual wage of around $54,000. However, police were expected to see a slower-than-average employment growth of seven percent between 2010-2020.

Probation officers work with offenders who've been released from jail, but are still required to have supervision. Officers arrange counseling, rehabilitation and treatment programs as well as make sure the offenders stay out of trouble. Probation officers earned a median annual wage of around $48,000 in 2011 and were expected to see employment growth of around 18%, or about as fast as the average for all occupations between 2010 and 2020. Some police departments will hire you with only a high school diploma or some college credit, while probation officer jobs typically require a college degree.

Social Worker

Another field you might consider is social work. While these positions typically require a bachelor's degree, they may pay better than corrections officer jobs. Additionally, social workers can play a more immediate role in rehabilitating inmates than corrections officers typically do. Social workers may spend large parts of the day in an office, and these jobs usually require a 40-hour week. However, some evening or weekend work may be required. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that social workers earned a median annual wage of around $54,000 and were expected to have faster-than-average employment growth of 18% in the 2010-2020 decade.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice - Bachelor
      • Law Enforcement Academy (Police) - Bachelor
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    2. Kaplan University

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    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Corrections
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      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
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    3. Keiser University

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    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
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      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
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    4. Colorado State University Global

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    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
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    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
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    6. Argosy University

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    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
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    7. Saint Joseph's University

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    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
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    9. Lewis University

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    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
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    10. University of the Southwest

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    Master's
      • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

Featured Schools

Baker College Online

  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor
  • Law Enforcement Academy (Police) - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BS in Corrections
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership

What is your highest level of education?