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 THEY DO
Correctional officers (COs) are positive role models for offenders and help them become future productive members of society. They use psychology 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
With a corrections degree in hand, correctional officers can make a good living. This type of work often requires overtime, which further boosts your base salary. But salaries* do vary greatly depending on location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. Compare the median salaries below for related jobs.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
*The salary information listed is based on national median salaries, unless noted. 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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 468,600 correctional officers and bailiffs in 2016.
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 percent through 2026. 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.
However, you’ll have a leg up on your colleagues if you earn a degree in criminal justice with a corrections or corrections management major.