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What is a Correctional Officer?
A correctional officer is a trained professional responsible for supervising incarcerated individuals and those awaiting trial that reside in a prison, jail, or similar correctional facility. Correctional officers are commonly known as a prison warden, prison guard, detention officer, juvenile correctional officer, prison officer, probation officer, CO, or jail officer. The terminology used to describe the role of a correctional officers is parsed by region and employment roles.
What Does a Correctional Officer Do?
Correctional officers are members of the law enforcement community with little to no authorized power outside the prison system. Corrections officer duties focus on the vital aspects of a correctional institution’s security, health, safety, and operations.
A correctional officer job duties will depend on training, agency type, roles, and organizational structure. Generally, a correctional officer is charged with patrolling and inspecting aspects of a correctional facility that can include the yard, units, buildings, cells, prisoners, clothing, and personal property.
In addition to the overt observations, a correctional officer can also help the prison maintain order and stability. A correctional officer job description can include the following duties:
- Utilize audio and video monitoring
- Intervene in any abnormal activity
- Promote safety and stability
- Escort visitors to designated locations
- Monitor access gates
- Operate the control room
- Monitor cameras and alarms
- Manage communication to the outside world
- Enforce institutional rules
- Respond to subtle changes in prisoner behavior
How to Become a Correctional Officer
The steps for students to become correctional officers will vary by municipality, state, and region. In some instances, a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient to apply for jobs. Meanwhile, other states and institutions require a college degree or comparable work experience as a minimum requirement. Federal government agencies will frequently require a bachelor's degree in addition to qualifying work experience.
Qualifying bachelor's degrees will typically include criminal justice, law, legal studies, criminology, law enforcement, and justice administration. After earning a qualifying degree from an accredited college, students can apply for jobs with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Site-specific training and orientation will be required for all correctional officers at every institution. Similarly, you can earn a COO certificate through the ACA if accepted by employers and institutions.
The four-step process to become a correctional officer will typically include the following:
- Earn a corrections degree or qualifying certificate from an accredited school
- Successfully complete all requisite on-site training modules
- Find gainful employment in corrections
- Complete all continuing education and/or in-service training requirements
Top Corrections Officer Degrees
College degree programs for prospective corrections officers may not take the same path from school to school. More specifically, you may find an accredited college or university offering a corrections specialty or criminal justice with an emphasis in corrections. Qualifying programs may be found at vocational schools, career colleges, community colleges, training academies, and 4-year colleges.
In either case, the latent skills and knowledge are designed to prepare students for a career in corrections or adjacent vocations. To help you make a great decision for your future, a summary of popular degree programs can be found below.
Corrections Officer Associate Degrees
An associate degree in corrections can be conferred as an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Associate degree programs are typically 2-year programs for full-time students. Part-time students will take longer to complete the degree dependent upon the course load and pace.
Both AA and AAS programs blend general education courses with core curriculum to provide a balanced education. Liberal arts classes may include courses such as history, psychology, math, communications, philosophy, and creative writing. Core classes will focus on building knowledge and analysis in criminal justice, social issues, and various aspects of institutionalization.
Corrections Officer Bachelor Degrees
A bachelor’s degree in corrections will most often be conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS). Bachelor degrees are 4-year degrees based on full-time matriculation with part-time students taking longer to earn a degree. Akin to an associate’s degree, the bachelor degree track melds liberal arts courses with core curriculum.
The primary difference between the two degrees lies in the breadth and depth of the bachelor’s degree. From remedial courses through upper-level criminal justice classes, students in a bachelor degree program will be exposed to a broad array of material.
Core classes in a corrections program will vary from school to school but will cover many of the same topics. One very popular Bachelor of Science program that has won many awards includes the following coursework:
|Introduction to Criminal Justice||Criminal Investigations|
|Law Enforcement||Community-Based Corrections|
|Juvenile Justice||Constitutional Rights of Inmates|
|Criminal Law||Crisis Management|
|Justice Administration||Criminal Procedures|
|Theories in Crime||Victimology|
|Demographics, Diversity, and Crime||Information Technology & Policing|
|Police Administration||Comparative Criminal Justice|
|Correctional Institutions||Criminal Justice Policy|
|Police Operations||Law & Social Control|
Correctional Officer Requirements
Correctional officer job requirements will depend on the organization, job duties, and state requirements. In addition to the courses listed below, institutions may require corrections officer jobs to include orientation and minimum training hours. Classes in a corrections officer degree will often include the following:
- English Composition
- Criminal Justice
- Business Management
- Behavioral Science
- Operations Management
- Public Safety
- Social Science
- Justice Administration
Employment & Corrections Specializations
Students earning a corrections degree or COO certificate, will be ready to launch a career in law enforcement. A traditional job in corrections is associated with a correctional officer or prison guard. Alternatively, the skills learned in a criminal justice degree program may offer a segue to similar careers.
Fields of specialization that students can consider after graduation can include any number of the following tracks: bailiff, security guard, firefighter, forensics, police, detective, police officer, EMT, research scientist, private detective, federal corrections officer, security guard, probation officer, and policy director.
Popular Correctional Officer Jobs
Graduates from an accredited corrections or criminal justice programs can find themselves employed by a variety of institutions. In fact, many students work for private industry, government agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations of all sizes. A cross-section of the types of employers where you can find probation officer jobs include:
- Bureau of Prisons
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives
- Local & State Law Enforcement Agencies
- Non-Government Agencies
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Department of Juvenile Justice
- U.S. Secret Service
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Non-Government Organizations
- District Attorney's Office
- Department of Corrections (DOC)
- Department of Justice
- Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Private Correctional agencies
- Office of Public Defender
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Department of Agriculture
How Much Do Correctional Officers Make?
Correctional officer salary numbers will vary by state and institution. However the BLS estimates the median annual income for a corrections officer at $42,820. The top ten percent of probation officers average $74,360 while the bottom 10% earn just under thirty-five thousand dollars a year. The BLS projects a 4% employment growth for the sector adding some 17,900 jobs in the coming reporting period.
The top employers of correctional officers are state and local government agencies, followed by private prisons, federal government, and psychiatric facilities. States employing the largest number of corrections professionals is Texas, California, New York, and Florida.
Best Corrections Officer Associations
- American Correctional Association (ACA)
- Prison SMART Foundation
- American Jail Association (AJA)
- American Probation and Parole Association (APPA)
- Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA)
- National Juvenile Detention Association (NJDA)
- National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC)
- United States Parole Commission (USPC)
- National Institute of Corrections (NIC)
- National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA)
- Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
- National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC)
- National Association of Probation Executives (NAPE)