What is a Correctional Officer?

A correctional officer, also known as a detention officer, is a law enforcement agent who is responsible for supervising prisoners, enforcing rules and keeping order in a prison. Correctional officers are in-charge of maintaining security by preventing any disturbances, assaults and attempts to escape. They aid in the rehabilitation and counseling of people involved in criminal offences and the supervision of their daily activities. In addition to that, they are also responsible for inspecting prison facilities for any required updates or improvements, searching inmates for any illegal items and reporting on the overall conduct of the prisoners.

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Now that you are clear on what a correctional officer does, you might be wondering how to become a corrections officer. Read on to find out how.

How to Become a Corrections Officer?

How to Become a Corrections Officer?


Corrections officers are required to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. State and local corrections organizations might require some college credits. Military or any other law enforcement experience might be substituted for this requirement in certain circumstances.If you are looking for employment in federal prisons, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree for an entry level job, as per the requirements of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. You might also be required to have at least 3 years of full-time experience relating to counseling, assistance or supervision of individuals.


In addition to educational requirements, training is a very integral part of the process of becoming a correctional officer. These trainings are provided by federal, state and some local departments of corrections as well as by private corrections companies. The trainings conducted need to be in compliance with the guidelines of the American Correctional Association (ACA). Some states have academies that teach a number of subjects including self-defense, operations, regulations, institutional policies, custody and security processes.After this, candidates receive on the job training as well. This includes training on legal restrictions and interpersonal relations. An experienced officer typically conducts this training, which lasts for several weeks at times.

New federal corrections officers are required to complete 200 hours of formal training within their first year of employment. This includes 120 hours of specialized training at the Federal Bureau of Prisons residential trainings center. Annual in-service trainings are also a frequent matter to keep officers updated on the latest development and procedures.

Trainings conducted for correctional officers usually include methods of response to disturbances, hostage situations, riots and other potentially perilous situations. Trainees are taught basic safety measures, crisis management and self defense techniques.

Keep in Mind!

Requirements for becoming a correctional officer might vary according to state but there are a few common criteria for eligibility:

  • Candidate must be at least 18 years of age
  • He must have a valid driver’s license
  • All physical and physiological examinations must be cleared along with a thorough background check
  • Candidate should have good communication skills

How long does it take to become a Correctional Officer?

The answer to the amount of time required to become a correctional officer varies according to the educational path you take. For instance, if you go for a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as criminal justice, you will spend four years in college. And upon graduation, you will need to enroll in a training program which could take between 6 to 12 months.

So, now that you are aware of how to become a correctional officer, read on to find out what the job entails.

Work Environment for a Correctional Officer

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Correctional Officers and Bailiffs held nearly 462,300 jobs in 2019. A majority of these worked at the federal, state or local government level while some were employed by private companies.

The job of a correctional officer can get pretty tough. You may be required to stand for long periods of time. Your work might be indoors or outdoors and the conditions of the facility you work in will play a huge part in how comfortable the job is for you. Some correctional facilities are temperature controlled and properly ventilated, while others might be old, overcrowded, noisy and hot.

A typical correctional officer usually works 8 hours per day, 5 days per week on rotating shifts. Since prisons operate on a 24/7 basis, officers are required to work all hours, day or night, weekends and even holidays.

Beware of the Offenders!

While aiming for all the glamour and excitement of a job in law enforcement, many applicants fail to grasp the dangerous nature of the work environment. Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and risky. Confrontations with inmates might result in serious injuries or even contagious diseases at times. The job requires you to be on guard at all times, and be alert throughout your shift. You will need to be very resilient and in control of yourself.

So when applying to become a correctional officer, be mentally prepared for the amount of energy you will be required to put into the job and the types of circumstances you might have to face.

How Much Can I Earn as a Correctional Officer in the US?

If you are wondering what the requirements are to become a correctional officer and the kind of money they make, then we have the information you need. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Correctional Officers and Jailers earned $52,340 as mean annual salary in the US in 2020, while their median yearly income was $47,410.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Outlook

The job projections for the next ten years for Correctional Officers and Jailers are not positive. As per BLS, Correctional Officers and Jailers will experience a job decline of -7% between 2020 and 2030.