Outlook & Growth
Look for average growth of 9 percent through 2018 in the ranks of correctional officers, as the population grows and more people are incarcerated. However, if states begin eliminating mandatory sentencing guidelines, which typically call for longer prison stays, the need for correctional officers may shrink slightly.
Salary & Wages
In 2008, correctional officers earned an average salary of $38,380. The middle 50 percent earned $29,660 to $51,000. The highest 10 percent earned more than $64,110. Supervisors and managers earn a higher average salary; bailiffs, a lower salary. Other non-salary perks frequently include uniforms or a clothing allowance, plus retirement benefits for officers with more than twenty years of service.
What is a Correctional Officer?
Correctional officers, also known as detention or parole officers, oversee individuals in a jail, reformatory or penitentiary.
Correctional officers maintain order and enforce rules and regulations. They monitor inmates’ activities and work assignments. They search inmates for contraband, such as weapons or drugs; settle disputes between inmates; and enforce discipline. They also inspect the facilities for contraband, fire hazards and tampering.
Officers inspect mail and visitors. They are expected to keep daily logs and records of their interactions with inmates, and in some cases to monitor inmates via closed-circuit security cameras.
Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and hazardous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates. Correctional officers work all hours of the day and night, weekends and holidays. In addition, officers may be required to work paid overtime.
Education & Degree Path
All employers require at least a high school diploma or graduation equivalency degree (GED). The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have a bachelor’s degree or three years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling or assistance. Some state and local corrections agencies require some college credits. Law enforcement or military experience may be substituted to fulfill college credit requirements.
Popular degree majors include public administration, criminal justice, law and society, human services, counseling, psychology and sociology.
Entering the Field:
Federal, state, and some local departments of corrections provide training based on guidelines established by the American Correctional Association. Some states have regional training academies that are available to local agencies. At the conclusion of formal instruction, all state and local correctional agencies provide on-the-job training, including training on legal restrictions and interpersonal relations. Many systems require firearms proficiency and self-defense skills.
Preference and higher pay will go to candidates who hold associate or bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, homeland security, human services, public administration or psychology.
Previous experience in law enforcement or the military is always a plus. Those who have worked as store detectives, loss prevention specialists and military police often move into this career area.
Those who begin in this career may go on to earn advanced degrees in law, paralegal work, criminal psychology, addiction and counseling, or public administration (running prisons and other public correctional facilities.)
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Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers as a corrections officer, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Corrections Officers.