What is a Correctional Officer?

An often-unsung position, the job of correctional officer is a crucial one within the criminal justice system. These individuals are responsible for keeping order within jails and prisons, and for ensuring the safety of all residents and visitors. The job requires a unique combination of skills and can be an excellent fit for those who enjoy taking on challenges in their work.

Correctional Officer: Job Overview

Correctional officers oversee those who have been arrested or imprisoned. Their responsibilities often include enforcing rules of their institutions, inspecting facilities, transporting inmates and reporting on conduct. They may inspect for unsanitary conditions, identify security breaches, prevent assaults and escapes and write detailed logs that describe inmate behavior.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for correctional officers is $43,510. However, the highest 10 percent of earners made more than $74,940 annually. In addition, corrections officers typically receive generous government benefits packages including healthcare, paid time off and a pension or other retirement program. Officers can often retire after 20 to 25 years on the job regardless of age.

Correctional officer is considered an entry-level position, with future opportunities available in supervisory and administrative roles. More than half of those employed in this position work in state government run facilities. A significant portion also work in local government facilities. Five percent work in facility support services, and four percent work in facilities run by the federal government. The position is ideal for individuals seeking to enter the corrections field, or for those transitioning out of the armed forces or police work.

Correctional Officer: Skills and Requirements

The responsibility of safeguarding institutions means that correctional officers must possess certain unique aptitudes. They must be observant and have excellent decision-making skills. They must also have a great deal of common sense and self-discipline.

Correctional officers must also meet certain medical and physical fitness standards. An emphasis on physical fitness continues after coming into position; many correctional officers are required to attend a basic-training-style program that may last one to three months.

Additional requirements may include:

  • Ability to respond quickly under stress and remain calm in stressful situations
  • Ability to work with people of differing backgrounds and behavioral patterns
  • Minimum or maximum age upon hire to ensure sufficient maturity and physical aptitude

Correctional officers typically have stable, full-time hours with the opportunity to pick up overtime. Because correctional facilities are open twenty-four hours, shifts may include nights, weekends, holidays and responses to emergency situations. Shifts are often chosen based on seniority, where more experienced correctional officers have the most desirable work hours.

Both state and federal correctional officers generally remain at the same facility unless they request a transfer. Those with court or other inmate transportation responsibilities will usually still have a consistent reporting location. Some travel may be required for training or emergency situations.

Obtaining a college degree, such as an online B.A. in Criminal Justice, can help correctional officers gain an advantage in the job market. Advanced credentials can prepare them for management and leadership roles, particularly if they have previous experience in the military or in law enforcement.

Get Ready to Advance Your Career

Virginia Wesleyan University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice is designed to prepare students to succeed in a number of rewarding positions in the field of corrections. All classes are taught by highly qualified professors who currently work in the field, including lawyers, criminologists, police officers, NCIS officers, and homicide detectives. Offered fully online, the program provides ultimate flexibility for students who seek to balance their education with life commitments. The program can be completed in as little as one year.