Correctional Officer: Job Description, Salary, and Education
Correctional officers handle a number of different jobs, including managing inmates, criminal offenders and people who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. Their job duties include supervising jails or prisons to make sure all inmates are following the rules and the facilities meet specific standards. Preventing escapes, fights or other violence is also within the responsibilities of correctional officers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of correctional officers is projected to grow 5% from 2010 to 2020. This is slower that the national average of a 14% growth across all positions. The BLS explains, “Because of budgetary constraints and a general downward trend in crime rates in recent years, demand will likely grow at a slower rate.”
As of May 2010, the median wage for correctional officers was $39,040, according to the BLS. Median wages varied between different levels of government. The median salary for correctional officers in local government was $38,980. Correctional officers with state governments had a median wage of $38,690. Federal government correctional officers had a median salary of $54,310.
Job Skills for Correctional Officers
Conflict resolution, sound judgment and critical-thinking are important skill sets for correctional officers. Correctional facilities and courtrooms can be emotionally-charged and sometimes dangerous, so correctional officers need to know how to keep the environment calm and safe.
Being in good physical condition is another necessary trait for correctional officers. Should a violent situation arise, correctional officers need to be able to subdue inmates to prevent injury. Being able to physically restrain offenders without getting emotional or out of control is vital.
Work Environment for Correctional Officers
As of May 2010, the BLS reports that 95% of correctional officers were employed by federal, state and local governments. The other 5% were employed primarily by private companies that work with prisons and jails to supply correctional services.
Working in correctional facilities can be emotionally taxing and potentially dangerous. Injuries are not uncommon in this position. The physical environment varies based on the condition of the facility. According to the BLS, “Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot and noisy.”
Work schedules for correctional officers usually occur in rotating shifts. Traditionally, officers work for a standard eight hours a day, five days a week, though this may vary. Since jails and prisons are open all hours of the day and every day of the year, correctional officers may have to work nights, weekends, holidays or overtime.
Education Requirements for Correctional Officers
Education requirements for correctional officers vary based on location and position. Some facilities only require a high school diploma. State and local facilities may require some college or equivalent law enforcement or military experience.
Correctional officers working at the federal level need to have a bachelor’s degree, three years of full-time counseling experience or a combination of both.