Career Development

What Does a Correctional Officer Do?

Find out what a correctional officer does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a correctional officer.

Correctional officers are responsible for maintaining order in prisons and jails. They ensure that inmates stay safe while incarcerated, monitor their behavior, and maintain the security of the facility as a whole.

Corrections officers must be able to handle stressful situations calmly and effectively. They may have to deal with violent or aggressive inmates on a daily basis, so they need to know how to use force appropriately when necessary.

Correctional Officer Job Duties

Correctional officers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Maintaining order in the facility by enforcing rules and regulations, monitoring inmates’ activities, and responding to emergencies
  • Providing security by patrolling facilities and grounds to prevent breakouts or other attempts at illegal activity
  • Supervising inmates who have been sentenced to serve time in the facility until they are released
  • Engaging in conflict resolution between inmates and responding to emergency situations such as fights, riots, or suicide attempts
  • Conducting inmate searches, including strip searches, using pat down procedures, and using drug detection equipment such as metal detectors or drug dogs
  • Interviewing new inmates, reviewing their backgrounds, and assigning them to appropriate living quarters based on their needs and behavior
  • Providing assistance to case managers in providing vocational training, education programs, recreational activities, and substance abuse treatment to inmates
  • Preparing reports regarding daily activities in the facility, including staff observations and interviews with inmates
  • Operating security equipment, such as X-ray machines, metal detectors, hand-held scanners, and electronic surveillance equipment

Correctional Officer Salary & Outlook

Correctional officers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the type of correctional facility they work in, and the geographic location of their job.

  • Median Annual Salary: $41,500 ($19.95/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $70,500 ($33.89/hour)

The employment of correctional officers is expected to decline over the next decade.

Prison populations have grown over the past several decades, and this growth is expected to continue. However, states are expected to continue closing or downsizing some of their older prisons because of costs. As a result, fewer new correctional officer jobs will be created than in the past.

Related: In-Depth Correctional Officer Salary Guide

Correctional Officer Job Requirements

A correctional officer candidate needs to satisfy several requirements for the position, including:

Education: A high school diploma is a minimum requirement for most correctional officer positions. Some facilities prefer candidates who have completed some college coursework. Taking courses in criminal justice, psychology, sociology, law and ethics can help you prepare for a career in corrections.

Training & Experience: Most states require newly hired correctional officers to complete a training program within a few months of employment. These programs typically last between 30 and 90 days and include instruction on topics such as first aid, self-defense, firearms, emergency response and ethics.

Certifications & Licenses: Most states require correction officers to have a license to carry a firearm on duty. Candidates must pass a firearms training course before they can take the shooting test. The shooting test is usually administered at the same time as the written licensing exam.

Some states have unique requirements for firearm licensure, such as requiring additional training in handgun use for corrections officers who will be carrying a weapon in the course of their duties.

Correctional Officer Skills

Correctional officers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication skills: Communication skills are a necessary skill for correctional officers. These skills allow them to interact with inmates and other law enforcement officials. They also use these skills to write reports and fill out paperwork.

Leadership skills: Leadership skills are a critical skill for a correctional officer to have. They are responsible for supervising inmates and ensuring the safety of everyone involved in the correctional process. Leadership skills can include things like being able to give constructive feedback, motivating others and keeping calm under pressure.

Problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills are essential for correctional officers, as they are often tasked with finding solutions to various problems. These skills allow you to identify issues, evaluate potential solutions and implement the best solution. For example, if an inmate is having a mental health episode, a correctional officer with strong problem-solving skills can identify the issue, find the best way to deescalate the situation and ensure the safety of both the inmate and themselves.

Physical fitness: Physical fitness is an important skill for correctional officers, as it allows them to perform their duties effectively. Correctional officers may be required to run after inmates, restrain inmates and perform other physically demanding tasks.

Technical skills: Technical skills are the abilities to use tools and technology. Many of the duties of a correctional officer involve the use of computers, software, security systems and other technology. Having strong technical skills can help you be more efficient in your job and perform tasks more quickly.

Correctional Officer Work Environment

Correctional officers work in a variety of settings, including prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers. They may be required to work long hours, including weekends and holidays, and may be exposed to dangerous and stressful situations. In some facilities, officers are required to live on the premises. Officers typically work in shifts, which may include nights, weekends, and holidays. They may be required to work overtime, especially during emergencies.

Correctional Officer Trends

Here are three trends influencing how correctional officers work. Correctional officers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Use of Technology in Corrections

The use of technology in corrections is a trend that is quickly gaining popularity among correctional facilities. This is due to the many benefits that it can provide, such as improved safety and security, better communication with staff and inmates, and more efficient operations.

As correctional officers are increasingly asked to utilize technology in their jobs, they will need to be familiar with its use and how it can improve the operation of the facility. This includes using electronic monitoring systems, video surveillance, and data management tools.

More Collaboration Between Law Enforcement and Corrections

There is a growing trend towards collaboration between law enforcement and corrections professionals. This is due to the realization that both professions have much to offer each other in terms of knowledge and experience.

As this trend continues to grow, correctional officers will need to develop strong relationships with law enforcement officials in order to get the information and support they need to do their jobs effectively. In addition, correctional officers will need to be aware of the latest trends in criminal justice in order to keep up with the latest developments.

A Greater Focus on Rehabilitation

As prisons become more overcrowded, there has been a shift towards a greater focus on rehabilitation. This means that correctional officers will need to be prepared to work with inmates who are trying to change their behavior and make positive changes in their lives.

In order to be successful, correctional officers will need to be able to build trust with inmates and help them to see the value in changing their ways. They will also need to be able to identify those who are not serious about rehabilitation and remove them from the program.

How to Become a Correctional Officer

A career as a correctional officer can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider all the factors that will influence your success in this field, including the type of facility you work for, the inmates you supervise, and the area where you live.

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for a career as a correctional officer is to get certified. Many states require correctional officers to be certified, so it’s important to check with your state’s department of corrections to find out what the requirements are in your area.

You should also make sure you have the physical stamina required for this job. Correctional officers must be able to stand for long periods of time and lift heavy objects. They also need to be able to handle stressful situations calmly and effectively.

Related: How to Write a Correctional Officer Resume

Advancement Prospects

Correctional officers can advance to supervisory or managerial positions within their facility, or they may transfer to a position in another correctional facility. Some correctional officers become bailiffs, probation officers, or parole officers. Some may also advance to positions in federal law enforcement.

Correctional officers who have a bachelor’s degree may advance to positions such as correctional counselor, program coordinator, or classification specialist. Those with a graduate degree may advance to warden, deputy warden, or other executive positions.

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