The American correctional system is tasked with punishing and rehabilitating wrongdoers, and protecting law-abiding citizens from people who have been found guilty in a court of law.
With over 749,000 workers servicing the needs of almost seven million clients, the correctional system is large indeed. Corrections (that is: jails, prisons, parole, probation, and community-based programs) is an important part of any society, and maybe even more important here.
If you would like to join the ranks of correctional workers across the country, get the corrections training you need to start your career off right.
What Correctional Officers Do
Correctional officers (COs) have the opportunity to provide a positive role model for offenders and help them become future productive members of society. They use their education and clear communication skills to counteract inmates’ criminal thinking, while maintaining a secure environment so offenders can safely pay their debt to society.
COs control and monitor the activities of offenders in jails and prisons across the country. They enforce rules, keep order, and search inmates for contraband.
Managing challenging people takes more than physical strength, though. It requires keen observation, knowledge, and skill. That’s why COs must normally complete correctional worker academy or some other form of corrections training before getting their first job.
But there are also other careers to aspire to within the correctional system, such as parole and probation officer, correctional treatment specialist, and prison management for those who want to take it to the next level.
And don’t forget that many people also choose to work outside of the prison system as security guards in businesses, schools, colleges, and universities across the U.S.
Skills You’ll Need
To be a successful corrections officer, you’ll need self-confidence and good physical conditioning. You’ll also need to be dependable, systematic, and decisive, and be able to think on your feet. It also helps to have the following personality traits and skills:
- The ability to maintain composure
- Critical thinking
- Interpersonal skills
- Good communication skills
- Honesty and a sense of fairness
- A high tolerance for stress
Corrections work often requires overtime, which could further boost your base salary. But salaries do vary greatly depending on location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. Compare the median annual salaries below for related jobs.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||$83,640|
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||$47,920|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||$64,610|
|Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists||$60,250|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics
The salary information listed is based on national median salaries, unless noted. Conditions in your area 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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 437,100 correctional officers and bailiffs in 2020.
Correctional officers work in federal, state, county, and local jails and prisons, juvenile detention centers, and maximum security prisons. Some also work in private, for-profit prisons under government contract.
For those with a corrections degree, jobs are expected to decline by -7% through 2030. Tighter budgets and falling crime rates may mean that fewer corrections officers are needed overall, but there will continue to be job openings as workers do leave the profession each year.
To be a correctional officer, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or a GED. Certain agencies require some college, so consult your local agency to find their education requirements.
If you want to work in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level corrections officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree; three years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals; or a combination of the two.
What You’ll Study: If you do decide to study corrections, or would like to use this career as a springboard to other related professions such as parole or probation officer, or correctional treatment specialist, here are some of the classes you’ll take in a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a corrections major.
- Introduction to Corrections
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
- The American Legal System
- Community Offender Supervision
- Correctional Institutional Management
- Deviant Behavior
- General Psychology
- Juvenile Justice
- Legal Rights of the Convicted
- Substance Abuse and Addiction
If these courses sound interesting and you’d like to become a CO, find schools that offer corrections training and ask them about their programs.
Length of Program: An associate’s degree with a focus on corrections takes two years to complete if you go to school full-time, don’t have to retake any classes, and have no scheduling problems. If you choose to do a bachelor’s degree, it’ll normally take four years of full-time study.
Master’s in Correctional Education: While a master’s degree isn’t normally required to work in corrections, you may want to consider a graduate degree if you’re thinking of rising in the ranks and becoming a prison administrator, like a captain, major, deputy warden, or warden, or becoming part of the executive administration team in your state’s department of corrections.
Find out more about specific programs by contacting schools near you. And don’t forget the many great online options.