Federal Prison Guard Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons to becoming a federal prison guard? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to find out if becoming a federal prison guard is right for you.
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Pros and Cons: Federal Prison Guard

Federal prison guards help keep the public safe by overseeing inmates housed in federal correctional institutes. Learn about the pros and cons of becoming a federal prison guard by reading below.

Pros of a Federal Prison Guard Career
Employee benefits provided when working with the government*
Promotional opportunities to senior positions*
Income for federal prison guards is above the national average (mean annual wage of $53,390 in May 2014)*
Proper training is given to ensure you're qualified to handle prisoners*

Cons of a Federal Prison Guard Career
Many guards experience stress while staying alert for long periods of time*
Dangerous work environment with prisoners*
Slower-than-average employment growth for all correctional officers (5% increase projected from 2012 to 2022)*
Evening, weekend, holiday and night shifts are common*

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

Career Information

Job Description

A federal prison guard keeps order in a prison facility. You might search an inmate for contraband or write reports on prisoner incidents. Offenders located in federal prisons typically are there for extended periods of time. As a result, you need to familiarize yourself with all the inmates you're expected to oversee. Each person has a different personality, so it is important you understand who you're dealing with. As you get to know your prisoners, you'll know what type of security you'll need to implement. You'll escort prisoners around the prison and supervise them throughout their daily routine.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the mean annual wage for correctional officers nationwide was $44,910, or $21.59 per hour (www.bls.gov). Correctional officers employed with the federal executive branch fared much better, with a mean annual wage of $53,390 ($25.67 per hour). The top paying states in descending order for prison guards, including those in the federal system, were New Jersey, California, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Vocational Requirements

Education and Training

At the federal level, most prison guards are expected to have a bachelor's degree. You can gear your major and coursework to areas related to assisting, supervising or counseling individuals. If you've got previous military or law enforcement experience, that is seen as a plus. You'll need to complete training at an academy along with some on-the-job training. The American Correctional Association sets the federal guidelines for prison guards. In your first year of employment, you need to complete formal training totaling 200 hours. Part of this specialized training is done at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons' residential training center.

What Do Employers Want in Federal Prison Guards?

Employers for federal prison guard jobs are generally looking for people who are calm, patient and disciplined. It is important that you're able to keep your emotions in check due to the heated conflict prisoners can create. Communication and negotiation skills are very important as well since employers want federal prison guards that can resolve conflicts and issues without violence. If you want to know what real employers were looking for in federal prison guards in May 2012 then continue reading below.

  • A senior officer position for a federal prison guard in California requires you to have at least a year's worth of experience in the field or at least nine credit hours of graduate study in criminal justice, criminology, social science or a related field. You also be a U.S. citizen and have some supervisory experience.
  • An entry-level correctional officer openings available at federal prisons across the country calls for applicants that can remain calm and confident in emergency situations. You must be a U.S. citizen and have a 4-year degree. More advanced positions require some graduate courses in criminal justice, criminology, social science or a related field. As an alternative to formal education, you must have at least three years of general field experience or one year of specialized experience.
  • A federal prison guard opening in Florida does not have a formal education requirement; however, it does require you to have at least one year of previous specialized experience in an area such as mental health counseling. This position also requires you to be U.S. citizen.

How Do You Stand Out?

Acquiring a professional certification from an organization like the American Correctional Association is a good way to stand out from other federal prison guard candidates. You'll want to pursue the Adult Correctional Staff certifications first and foremost. For this option, you have four designations to choose from. These certifications are for different experience levels. If you're new to the field, you'll want to start with the Certified Corrections Officer certification. From there, you can work your way up the certifications for Supervisor, Manager and Executive. You have to meet minimum experience requirements and complete an examination to receive your certification.

Alternative Career Choices

If you'd rather work in a private industry with fewer risks, consider a career as a security guard. Many businesses hire security guards to keep watch over a specific location like an office building or a warehouse. Your job is to monitor the area for any suspicious activity in order to protect your employer's property and belongings. The BLS in May 2011 found that security guards had an average yearly salary of around $27,000.

If you want to be out in the field instead of working in a prison, look into becoming a police officer. On a patrol, you would investigate any suspected illegal activity. If you receive a call, you'll get the details and then report to the scene of the crime. At the end of the day, you'll keep detailed records of incidents you respond to in case the information needs to be used in court. Police patrol officers were found to have annual earnings of about $56,000 on average according to the BLS in May 2011.

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Featured Schools

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 Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Homeland Security
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

University of the Southwest

  • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Grand Canyon University

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

What is your highest level of education?

CDI College

  • Diploma in Law Enforcement Foundations

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