Pros and Cons of Becoming a Juvenile Detention Officer
A juvenile detention corrections officer works with youths detained in correctional facilities. Consider the pros and cons of being a juvenile detention officer:
|Pros of a Juvenile Detention Officer Career|
|Entry-level positions require a high school diploma or bachelor's degree*|
|Promotion opportunities include jobs as warden or sergeant*|
|Chance to mentor troubled youths**|
|Opportunities with correctional facilities in all 50 States*|
|Cons of a Juvenile Detention Officer Career|
|Low wage, considering it's a high-risk job ($44,910 mean annual salary)*|
|Low job-growth field (five percent growth from 2012-2022)*|
|Significant physical risk when dealing with inmates (high nonfatal on-the-job injury rate)*|
|Work hours may include nights, weekends and holidays*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **IHaveAPlanIowa.gov
Important Career Information
Job Description and Duties
The role of a juvenile detention officer is to oversee inmates and ensure the security of the facility. Officers serve as escorts who take inmates back and forth between the detention center and the courthouse. They also monitor outside visits, search cells for contraband, document inmate information and report any disruptions that occur in the detention center. Additionally, officers use restraining techniques on inmates when needed.
Work schedules usually involve shift work and include nights, weekends and holidays. You will spend much of your time at work on your feet. Officers are hired to work at detention centers run by state or local governments. Officers are also hired by private protective services companies who contract with a state to run detention centers. It is important to note that an officer's authority is limited to the correctional facility and does not carry outside prison walls.
Career Prospects and Salary Info
According to the BLS, juvenile detention officers earn an annual mean wage of about $44,910 as of May 2014. The BLS predicts slower-than-average growth in the field for the 2012 to 2022 decade. This stems from a combination of a decreasing crime rate and fiscal limitations. The combination of a work shifts, potentially violent environment and high stress equates to rapid turnover in the field. This turnover will help create some job openings. However, it could also mean you might be searching for a new career in the short-term as well (www.bls.gov).
What Are the Requirements?
In order to find employment as a juvenile detention officer, you must have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. Many employers seek candidates who have completed some college-level coursework in a related field, such as law enforcement or sociology. Those applicants who have completed a bachelor's degree program in a related discipline are highly desired. In lieu of educational qualifications, military or law enforcement experience can often qualify applicants.
Once hired, officers undergo training programs modeled on the American Correctional Association (ACA) guidelines. Topics covered in training and orientation programs include facility operations, first aid, behavior management and security actions. Some positions require officers to complete annual continuing education courses throughout their career.
Exceptional communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills are essential attributes for juvenile detention officers. Such skills can help defuse volatile situations and ensure the safety of inmates as well as personnel. Additionally, officers must be physically fit to be able to restrain prisoners.
Juvenile detention officers are in a unique position to make a positive impact on the lives of troubled youths. Having sound interpersonal and counseling skills can help facilitate a dialogue with an inmate and allow an officer to provide effective guidance toward a healthier lifestyle.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Job postings for juvenile detention officers may specify that previous experience working with youths in a related capacity is highly desired. In addition, applicants who have a felony conviction or are not U.S. citizens are automatically disqualified from officer positions. As part of the hiring process, officers must pass a drug test. Often, employers require officers to hold a valid driver's license. While not a complete panorama, below is a selection of job openings posted in May 2012:
- A community corrections and rehabilitation department in Minnesota is looking to hire a full-time juvenile correctional officer. Applicants must be female, at least 21 years old and able to work all shifts, including nights, weekends and overnight hours. Previous experience working with teenagers is desired.
- A juvenile justice department in Texas is seeking an experienced juvenile correctional officer to work in a residential treatment center. The officer will supervise the lower-level correctional officers and monitor the facility's day-to-day operations. Applicants should have at least a high school diploma and four years' experience.
- In California, there is a job opening at a juvenile hall facility for an entry-level juvenile detention officer. Applicants should have at least a high school diploma, strong communication abilities and good decision-making skills. Ideal candidates will also have some college education, at least one year of related experience and CPR training.
How to Stand Out
Remaining abreast of developing trends and practices in juvenile detention and rehabilitation, including the push to reduce the use of detention centers, can help an officer stand out. Such knowledge will broaden an officer's perspective of the job, lead to future job opportunities in the field and facilitate intelligent conversations with superiors.
Seeking professional certification is another way to stand out in the field. For example, the American Correctional Association (ACA) administers the Corrections Certification Program. The program offers four certification options specifically for juvenile corrections, including Certified Corrections Officers/Juvenile. Additionally, officers can participate in classes run by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). The NIC offers relevant classes both online and in person.
Other Careers to Consider
If you are interested in a career in protective services, but are hesitant about working directly with a prisoner population, consider a career as a security guard. Like a juvenile detention officer, security guards can enter the field with a high school diploma. The BLS predicted that job opportunities for security guards will grow by 19% during the 2010 to 2020 decade, significantly more favorable than the outlook for juvenile detention officers. However, security guards earn a much lower wage. As of May 2011, the BLS reports that the annual mean wage of a security guard was about $27,000.
If you are looking to expand your career beyond prison walls, consider a position as a police officer. While police officers may start their career with a high school diploma, they must complete a training academy and probationary period of work. The BLS predicts employment opportunities for police officers to grow by seven percent, slightly more favorable than the outlook for juvenile detention officers. Police officers, however, enjoy a higher salary on average. As of May 2011, the annual mean wage for police officers was about $56,000.