Corrections Officer Career, Job, Degrees and Training Information

Correction officers, also known as detention officers, supervise convicted criminals in jails or penitentiaries and people accused of crimes awaiting trial. They maintain security, break up fights, and prevent inmates from escaping. Correctional officers only have authority in the facility they work at.

Correctional officers work at precinct stations, municipal jails, and police and sheriffs' departments. The 3,300 jails in the United States are supervised by elected sheriffs. Inmates are constantly revolving in and out of prison since new criminals are arrested, released, or transferred. Correctional officers admit, and process over 11 million people annually in the United States. Individuals who have been recently arrested and placed in a jail, pose the greatest threat to correctional officers since little is known about these people.

Most correctional officers work at federal or state prisons or large jails. Correctional officers also supervise people detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Officers may also work for private companies that operate correctional facilities. Working in a prison or jail can be dangerous. However, since inmates at prisons are incarcerated for longer periods of time, officers are more aware of safety hazardous posed by inmates.

Correctional officers prepare written and verbal reports about inmate conduct and progress. Officers need to document and report rule violations, security breaches, and strange behavior. Officers often maintain daily records and investigate crimes committed by inmates. Officers must report all violations and never demonstrate favoritism towards inmates.

Prisons and jails with direct supervision cellblocks employ unarmed officers equipped with communication equipment, if help is needed. They usually work with other officers in 50-100 inmate cellblocks. These officers enforce rules by communicating with inmates or revoking privileges.

Correction officers also work in centralized control centers, command centers with closed-circuit television cameras and computer tracking systems, supervising dangerous inmates. These prisoners are often in solitary confinement, only leaving to shower, exercise, or meet with visitors. Correctional officers often must use leg irons and handcuffs when moving these inmates to hospitals or courtrooms.

Education and Training

A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement to be a correctional officer. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to possess at minimum a bachelor's degree; 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing assistance, counseling, or supervision to individuals; or a combination of these two criteria. Even local and State corrections agencies require some college education, but military or law enforcement experience can sometimes be substituted to fulfill college education requirements.

Federal, State, and some local corrections departments provide necessary law enforcement training for correctional officers based on guidelines established by the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. However, some States provide regional training academies that are available to local law enforcement agencies. Once formal corrections instruction has been provided, all State and local correctional agencies provide substantial on-the-job training for corrections officers. This on-the-job training includes instruction on legal restrictions and interpersonal relations. Many corrections officers are also provided courses in self-defense and firearms instruction as part of their training. Correctional officer trainees usually receive several weeks (sometimes several months) of on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced correctional officer.

Formal training for correctional officers typically includes specialized instruction in a number of subjects, including regulations, institutional policies, and operations, as well as security and custody procedures. Correctional officers are required to undergo 200 hours of formal training during their first year of employment. Within 60 days of their appointment, correctional officers are also required to successfully complete 120 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center at Glynco, Georgia.

Many correctional officers become members of prison tactical response teams. Correctional officers who join this group receive addition training that teaching them how to respond to disturbances, riots, forced cell moves, hostage situations, and other potentially dangerous confrontations.

Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for correctional officers are expected to grow nearly 10 percent between 2008 and 2018. Growth in populations as well as rising incarceration rates due to mandatory sentencing guidelines will spur the demand for correctional officers.

Criminal Justice Careers

Learn More About the Most Popular Criminal Justice Careers by Specialty

Need Help Searching?

Click on the button to use our FREE Criminal Justice Degree Finder Tool.

Featured Criminal Justice Articles

Explore Articles on Hot Topics in the Field of Criminal Justice

  • Forensic Scientist

    Breakthrough in Forensic Science

    Forensic researchers in Tucson, Arizona have developed a revolutionary method that could allow scientists to predict what a person might look like using only their DNA. Scientists at the University of Arizona conducted a research project measuring the following characteristics of nearly 1,000 individuals: eye color, skin, and hair.

    Read more
  • Death Penalty

    Does The Death Penalty Save Lives?

    For the first time in over a generation, the question of whether the death penalty deters murders has captured the attention of scholars, sparking an intense new debate. About 12 current reports indicate each time a convicted murderer is executed, between 3-18 homicides do not occur.

    Read more
  • Bounty Hunter

    Bounty Hunters -- Legit, or not?

    Are bounty hunters legitimate law enforcement professional? There has been increasing controversy in the United States over bounty hunters, with concern voiced over the lack of control that a state has over their behavior. Court jurisdictions have permitted bounty hunters broad authority to locate and detain individuals fleeing to evade the legal process.

    Read more