Corrections Officer

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
California 36,730 $71,630
New Jersey 10,800 $70,400
Massachusetts 6,080 $66,060
New York 34,820 $63,990
Hawaii 1,520 $57,670
Pennsylvania 17,380 $51,140
Michigan 9,590 $49,910
Ohio 13,100 $43,000

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2017

Correctional Officers and Jailers Salary by State

State # Employed Median Salary
Alabama 4,680 $36,760
Alaska 1,120 $64,670
Arizona 13,810 $44,150
Arkansas 5,500 $34,120
California 34,980 $75,400
Colorado 6,990 $50,620
Connecticut 3,610 $54,420
Delaware not available not available
Florida 33,060 $43,410
Georgia 15,500 $34,290
Hawaii 1,520 $59,020
Idaho 1,900 $39,710
Illinois 14,050 $62,440
Indiana 7,990 $36,960
Iowa 3,030 $50,750
Kansas 3,470 $36,550
Kentucky 5,850 $35,940
Louisiana 7,890 $34,370
Maine 1,440 $40,440
Maryland 6,780 $49,220
Massachusetts 6,130 $67,920
Michigan 9,100 $51,890
Minnesota 4,770 $51,660
Mississippi 4,930 $30,840
Missouri 8,420 $31,650
Montana 990 $40,570
Nebraska 2,270 $40,310
Nevada 2,680 $62,140
New Hampshire 1,110 $47,860
New Jersey 11,240 $70,280
New Mexico 4,210 $36,250
New York 35,460 $64,490
North Carolina 15,720 $38,500
North Dakota 680 $44,700
Ohio 13,310 $45,190
Oklahoma 4,290 $33,060
Oregon 4,200 $58,450
Pennsylvania 16,850 $54,140
Rhode Island 1,070 $68,710
South Carolina 6,200 $37,560
South Dakota 1,330 $39,310
Tennessee 9,670 $35,470
Texas not available $42,380
Utah 2,270 $46,150
Vermont 550 $45,810
Virginia 14,910 $41,860
Washington 7,190 $57,740
West Virginia 3,030 $36,960
Wisconsin 6,870 $44,230
Wyoming 830 $42,290

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.

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