Correctional officers guard, supervise, and rehabilitate people who are incarcerated in prisons and jails. Like police officers, they are classified as peace officers. Occasionally they are still referred to as prison guards. However, the term is out of favor. Correctional officers do more than guard, and the selection process reflects this. The following are among the typical duties:
• Supervising meals and recreation activities
• Escorting inmates
• Ensuring visitor safety
• Searching for contraband
• Writing reports
• Maintaining control in emergency situations
• Participating in the rehabilitative process
Discipline-specific training typically takes place post-hire. People can become correctional officers in state and local facilities with education as low as high school graduation/ GED. However, college education can be helpful.
Standards for federal facilities are higher. An individual can be hired at a particular grade on the basis of education or qualifying experience equivalent to the next lower pay grade. A person can be hired at the GL-05 level on the basis of a bachelor’s degree in any field.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently sought a person with a year of grad school in a related field (or a year of specialized work equivalent to the next lower pay grade) for the position of Correctional Officer (Senior Officer) for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
For those seeking careers working with prisoners, criminal justice is a logical degree choice. Some programs include tracks specifically in corrections. Forensic psychology or socially responsible leadership are among the other potentially useful concentrations.
Students may have the opportunity to become members of the American Correctional Association (https://www.aca.org/ACA_Prod_IMIS/ACA_Member/Membership/Student_Information/Student_Chapters___Affiliates/ACA_Member/Membership/Students/Student_Chapters___Affiliates.aspx?hkey=7118e557-0e91-4e09-8357-3f706125f3f0).
Correctional Officer Tasks
Communicating – both written and oral — is a big part of the job. A corrections officer should develop rapport with those under his or supervision. Caring is an important trait, when paired with firmness. Correctional officers routinely keep logs. More paperwork is in order when things go wrong. The job can even include testifying in court.
The Selection Process
Prospective correctional officers go through a multi-step hiring and selection process. Typically, there is a written examination at the beginning of the process.
In California, for example, applicants complete the following before being placed on the eligibility list:
• Written test
• Physical fitness test
• Background check
• Medical exam/ vision test
• Psychological evaluation
Choice of examination is not universal. Many in the Western part of the United States use the LST, administered by Public Safety Testing (PST). The PST assesses a wide variety of cognitive skills as well as some non-cognitive traits. One will find the NTN REACT test in use in a number of Western and Midwestern agencies. The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) reports that all Oregon candidates take the NTN REACT. In Florida, all candidates take the Florida Criminal Justice Basic Abilities Tests (CJBAT) before enrolling in the state corrections training program.
The post-hire training typically includes orientation, academy-type training, and field training.
Correctional officers typically attend POST training academies. However, the training program they enroll in is different than the one police officers take: intensive, but typically shorter.
Standards are not identical from state to state. Nor is the length of the program.
The New Jersey Civil Service Commission reports that correctional officer hires attend a 12-week in-residence program. In Oregon, the Basic Correction Course is eight weeks (https://www.oregon.gov/doc/careers/Pages/basic-corrections-course.aspx). Idaho Department of Corrections employees attend the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Academy for four weeks. The Idaho field training phase is also four weeks (https://www.idoc.idaho.gov/content/careers/current_openings/steps_to_becoming_a_correctional_officer/correctional_officer_training). Idaho has a job shadowing phase between orientation and POST training; it is at least one week.
Training topics can be far reaching, as a visit to the website of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service suggests (https://www.dpscs.state.md.us/employment/training-academy.shtml). The following are among the topics covered in Maryland’s seven-week program:Professional Certification
Corrections officers can seek examination-based voluntary certification. The Certified Corrections Officer/Provisional (CCO/P) certification is open to graduating students and cadets; it is examination-based. In order to achieve full status as a Certified Corrections Officer, an individual must be in a position for at least one year.
The National Institute for Jail Operations offers the National Certified Corrections Officer (NCCO) credential.
Career Tracks and Advancement Opportunities
Police department cross-over is a viable pathway into the profession.
Correctional officers can move up the ranks. Some titles sound are reminiscent of those in policing (e.g. lieutenant, sergeant).
Corrections professionals may use certification to validate knowledge of supervisory and managerial duties. The American Correctional Association offers certification in the following:
• Certified Corrections Supervisor (CCS)
• Certified Corrections Manager (CCM)
• Certified Corrections Executive (CCE)
Corrections officers and bailiffs averaged $24.10 an hour (or $50,130 a year) in 2019. Those at the 10th percentile earned $15.26 while those at the 90th percentile earned $37.54. BLS May, 2020
National Institute of Corrections https://info.nicic.gov/
American Jail Association
Types of Security Guards and Career Advancement Opportunities