Correctional Officers and Jailers
Training and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||434,870|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.2%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||10,810|
- State and local facilities usually require a high school diploma or a GED, not a four-year program or other training; these facilities are often the entry point for those who intend to work in federal facilities.
- Federal prison correctional officers with a GS-05 designation, the entry level for federal workers, must have a bachelor's degree or three years of experience in a related field such as law enforcement, security or emergency response.
Advancement as a correctional officer is predicated on experience and education. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, GS-06 positions require at least nine semester hours of graduate education in a related field such as criminal justice, psychology or sociology. Applicants can also earn advancement through good performance for a minimum of one year as an officer in the correctional system.
Guards in federal facilities must receive a minimum of 200 hours of training in their first year of work. That figure includes 120 hours at a Bureau of Prisons's training academy, one of a number of residential facilities.
A brief look at the work of correctional officers. Produced for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
Your work day may not be a day at all; prisons need to be staffed with guards 24 hours a day, and that includes overnight shifts. Regardless of when it starts, your shift begins with paperwork to brief you on prisoner counts and note any unusual occurrences during the previous shift. Many novice guards are surprised at the volume of paperwork they face, but working in a prison requires careful record-keeping and plenty of structure.
Your first interaction with inmates depends on your role and on the nature of the facility. If you're new to the job or work in a minimum-security prison, you might supervise the trustees, non-violent inmates assigned to kitchen duty, as they cook and serve meals. You may also patrol the halls or be in charge of monitoring doors, opening and closing them to let shifts of prisoners through for meals and exercise time.
After more time and training, your duties will expand. You may be in closer contact with prisoners in higher-risk situations such as outdoor exercise supervision. Prisoner transfers must also be overseen by guards, and that job typically goes to more experienced officers; transfers are a change in the routine of prison life, and some inmates use it as their opportunity to attempt an escape. You will likely conduct or supervise room searches. Even in a high-security prison, inmates find ways to get contraband or make weapons, and guards must find and remove these items.
You might be in charge of admitting new inmates into the prison, a process that could involve little more than the necessary paperwork and a thorough pat-down or might include a body cavity search and shower. Guards must be present for these events to ensure the inmates bring nothing dangerous into the prison, including inadvertent dangers such as body lice. You could also work at the other end of an inmate's time served and process prisoners for release.
Your day might include a visit with a counselor. Prison guards face unusual stresses in their line of work, and long-term correctional facilities now offer counseling for guards to help them put their challenging work in context.
Certifications and Licensing
The American Correctional Association offers a certification program to become a Certified Correctional Officer (CCO). While this certification is not mandatory, it can help officers secure promotions. Becoming certified in specialized areas such as riot control or career counseling may also lead to promotions and suit certified officers for specific roles within the system.
Full-time versus part-time: Being a federal correctional officer is a full-time job. Some state and local facilities do have room for part-time guards, and many police officers do additional work in local jails. Although shifts are generally static, prisons can be a volatile environment; guards may have to work overtime or come in on weekends. Officers who move up to a supervisory position may need to put in extra time to handle paperwork, especially if an incident occurs on their shift.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons – This division of the U.S. Department of Justice provides prospective prison workers with a thorough overview of available jobs. Visitors can learn about the requirements to become a correctional officer and find openings throughout the country. The eligibility requirements listed are for federal prison work. State and local facilities have different requirements, but for those working toward federal employment, these guidelines are useful.
- American Correctional Association – This professional organization offers additional training and seminars for current correctional officers. It also features certification options for prospective officers, offering online coursework and proctored exams to become a Certified Correctional Officer. This resource is good for current police officers and military personnel who are considering a career move as well as for new entrants to the field.
- American Jail Association – A professional organization that focuses on current correctional officers' unique challenges and workplace stresses, this site gives prospective guards a clear look at the career. The non-profit organization offers educational materials, access to training opportunities and a bi-monthly magazine. For future correctional officers, its news section and discussion forums are educational.