How to Become a Correctional Officer


With around four hundred thousand correctional officers serving in different capacities all over the United States, it should not come as a surprise that these professionals form a big chunk of the criminal justice system. Sometimes referred to as prison officers or detention officers, these professionals are directly responsible for the rehabilitation of criminals. They are also responsible for individuals who are awaiting trial and have not been convicted. They may be depicted in the mainstream media as professionals who carry a baton and usually find themselves in the middle of a prison riot. Being a correctional officer is no walk in the park, however they perform a number of other duties, which helps the entire criminal justice system run smoothly.

Responsibilities of a Correctional Officer
How to Become a Correctional Officer

 Responsibilities of a Correctional Officer

To get a better understanding of what these professionals do and how they serve as the last line of defense between order and total chaos, here is a list of their responsibilities.

  • Supervise and Manage Inmates – This task includes instructing inmates on issues of sanitation, housekeeping and discipline. Making periodic rounds and monitoring inmates for suspicious behavior is also a crucial part of the job.
  • Check Mail and Facilitate Visits – All mail for inmates must be check by correctional officers for contraband. They also supervise inmates during family visits.
  • Assign Tasks to Inmates – As a part of the rehabilitation process, inmates are assigned tasks by correctional officers. They provide instructions to inmates and monitor their progress.
  • Arrange Daily Schedules – Correctional officer chalk out daily schedules for inmates. These may include library visits, counseling appointments, family visits and study programs.
  • Maintain Order – The most important task of a correctional officer is to maintain order and peace. This calls them to be patient, vigilant and strictly abide by rules and regulations and follow standard operating procedures.

Having gone through the responsibilities of a correctional officer, now the first question would be ‘How to become a Corrections Officer’. Here is the answer:

Becoming a Correctional Officer

There are no standard requirements to becoming a correctional officer in the United States. Reason being, every state has its own recruitment requirements. However, there are certain minimum standards that individuals must meet to become a correctional officer.

  • Education– At state level, individuals must have a high school diploma or GED to be considered for employment as a correctional officer. However, The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires applicants to have a bachelor degree (preferably in criminal justice) or three years of experience at a similar capacity or both to qualify.
  • Age – The candidate must be between 18 and 25 years of age. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not accept candidates who’ve reached their 37th birthday.
  • State or Federal? – Candidates must choose between state or federal positions. The application process for state is different from federal. So the decision must be made before applying for a job. Also the Department of Corrections has precise information on training requirements for all local, state and federal levels. Getting in touch with them would be useful.
  • Physical Requirements – The job of correctional officer entails the candidate to be in good physical shape. The minimum physical requirements for essential duties include:
  • Should be able to lift up to 15 pounds and carry up to 5 pounds
  • Capable of physically restraining an inmate
  • Sit or stand for 8 hours (periodically)
  • Should have good hearing and vision
  • Should have good communication skills

A specific example of a physical test would be to climb up and down 108 steps within 45 seconds with a 20 pound belt.

What to Expect if Selected?

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the state and local law enforcement go to great lengths to ensure they have the right man/woman for the job. Here are a couple of investigations the candidate must expect when selected for a position.

  • Background Investigation –   All candidates must expect a thorough investigation into their past when they apply for a position as a correctional officer. This includes criminal record checks, credit checks and personal references check.
  • Citizenship Verification – For a position in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the candidate must be a citizen of the United States. However there is a possibility for a non-US national to fill this position, only when there are no suitable candidates available. This scenario is quite rare but waivers are available for such situations.
  • Drug Test – The medical examination will include a urinalysis to test for the presence of drugs.

Career Outlook

Once hired, in case of Federal Bureau of Prisons, the candidate will need to complete a 1-year probationary period. At the end of the year, the individual’s performance will be evaluated. Subject to the supervisor’s evaluation, the individual will be confirmed as a permanent with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers earned a median annual salary of around $38,970 per year in 2012. The demand for these professionals is expected to increase 5% over the next few years.

Being a correctional officer can be both demanding and challenging. Candidates interested in this career must have good communication skills, be socially perceptive and have critical thinking skills. It is only after fulfilling all these requirements that one can pursue a career as a correctional officer.