Learn What a Correctional Officer Does

Read about your education program and career options.

Career Overview

criminal in handcuffs symbolic of correctional officer

Correctional officers oversee individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in prison.

They maintain security and ensure inmate accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults or escapes. They also provide reports on inmate conduct and on the quality and quantity of work done by inmates. Correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules.

In addition, they routinely inspect locks, window bars, doors and gates for signs of tampering. Officers also report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They normally keep a daily log or record of their activities.

Where You'll Work

Most correctional officers work in the following locales:

  • Local, state and federal jails and prisons, watching over the incarcerated offenders
  • A relatively small number oversee individuals being held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service before they are released or deported
  • Correctional institutions that are run by private for-profit organizations

Prerequisites to Correctional Officer Careers

To work as a correctional officer, you'll need to meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S. citizen over 18 years old
  • Not be a convicted felon
  • Have a GED or high school diploma
  • Pass several competitive written and physical examinations

These are minimum requirements. Specific entry requirements and on-the-job training vary widely from state to state and agency to agency.

Correctional Officer Education

All states and local correctional agencies provide formal instruction and on-the-job training. However, earning your bachelor's degree, especially in a criminal justice-related field, will increase your chances of promotion.

Academy trainees generally receive instruction on a number of subjects:

  • Institutional policies
  • Regulations
  • Operations
  • Custody and security procedures

As a condition of employment, new federal correctional officers must undergo 200 hours of formal training within the first year of employment. They also must complete 120 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center at Glynco, Georgia within the first 60 days after appointment.

Corrections Officer Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for correctional officers is $38,970. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.