A corrections officer works with individuals in correctional facilities who have been convicted of felonies. Correctional officers also help individuals reintegrate into society after they have served their sentence.
Incarceration and rehabilitation of convicted criminals is a large industry in the United States.
National Cost of Prisons: $74 billion
Cost of California Prisons: $7.9 billion
Cost of Texas Prisons: $3.3 billion
Source: Exploring and Understanding Careers in Criminal Justice1
These estimates do not include municipal and county jails so the actual cost is estimated to exceed $100 billion.1
89% of correctional officers have a high school level education while 11% have some post-secondary education (O*Net). Additional education can help correctional officers advance to a position of greater responsibility such as a supervisor position. Correctional facilities are frequently looking to fill positions so getting hired can be a great way to get started and gain experience in the criminal justice field.
Corrections officers can work for the local government or federal government as well as corporations that run private prisons. The typical work week for a correctional officer is 40 hours and this career offers attractive pay and benefits with a median salary of over $42,000. Correctional officers can encounter dangerous situations as they are in close contact with inmates who can engage in violent behavior towards officers and other inmates. Correctional officers must always be vigilant for potentially dangerous situations that can arise from supervising inmates. Illness and injury rates are among the highest of any occupation. This job requires candidates with attention to detail, strong mental toughness, good physical fitness, self-discipline, and good communication skills.
Correction Officer Job Description
The common job duties for corrections officers include:
- Follow facility protocols to ensure safety of facility employees and inmates.
- Prevent inmates from smuggling in contraband such as cell phones, drugs, or weapons.
- Monitor inmate behavior and write reports on the conduct of individuals.
- Maintain knowledge and skills through continuous training.
There were about 468,600 correctional officer and bailiff jobs in the United States in 2016. This number is expected to decrease overall by 7% in the decade from 2016 to 2026. The local government budgets and prison population determines the demand for correctional officers. The trend in the corrections is to consider alternatives to incarceration with the focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons employs 33,000 employees to supervise over 200,000 inmates at over 100 facilities.2 BOP employees receive extra pay when they work evening hours, overtime, and 25% above regular pay for working on Sundays. After 10 years of service, employees receive 20 days of paid vacation in addition to 10 paid days off for federal holidays. After 25 years of full-time employment in prisons, BOP employees are eligible for “hazardous duty” law enforcement retirement. The BOP requires that new hires be under the age of 37. Once hired by the FOP, new correctional officers attend training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia where they receive instruction on firearms, self-defense, and prison procedures.
State prison systems can vary widely in salary, training, and prison populations. A majority of inmates in state prisons are violent offenders while a majority of inmates in federal prisons are drug offenders according to 2012 statistics.2
How to Get Hired as a Corrections Officer
The general steps for getting hired are:
1. Meet the requirement of being a U.S. citizen, have no felony convictions
2. Take and pass an entrance exam
3. Receive a conditional offer
4. Pass a background check
5. Pass a medical exam
6. Pass a physical fitness test
7. Pass a psychological assessment
8. Pass a drug screening
9. Attend a training academy
Correctional Officer Training
The training academy for correctional officers is shorter than the training for police officers. It is still a challenging course that is both mentally and physical demanding.
Correctional Officer Salary
Correctional officers earn less than police officers, although a relatively high salary is available in certain parts of the country and overtime opportunities are available.
Highest Paying States for Correctional Officers
|State||# Employed||Median Salary|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2017
Correctional Officers and Jailers Salary by State
|State||# Employed||Median Salary|
|Delaware||not available||not available|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2018
1. Sheridan, Matthew J. Exploring and Understanding Careers in Criminal Justice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016. Print.
2. Johnston, Coy H. Careers in Criminal Justice. SAGE, 2019.