REQUIREMENTS TO BECOME A Correctional Officer

State By State Education and Career Requirements

Correctional Officer Requirements 2022

If you are considering becoming a correctional officer, you should know that there are different requirements that you must fulfill based upon where you would like to work. Local and state correctional facilities have different requirement for correctional officers than do federal prisons education requirements. There are also some qualities and characteristics that are necessary for all correctional officers to have, regardless of your workplace setting.

THE CAREER

Correctional Officer Career Guides

Correctional Officer Career Guide

Most correctional officer positions require a minimum of a high school diploma (or equivalent). Correctional officers working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, however, must have a bachelor’s degree...

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Women's Career Guide

Corrections, along with the military, is still one of the last remaining male-dominated fields of employment. This is changing, however. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of May 2021, 28.6 percent of its staff, or 10,914 staff members, were female...

View Women's Career Guide

Veteran's Career Guide

Working within the public service sector is a common choice for veterans who are exiting the military and entering civilian life. Correctional departments at the federal, state and local levels are always glad to have those with military...

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General Skills and Personality Traits Required of Correctional Officers

If you would like to become a correctional officer, there are some general skills and personality characteristics you should possess:

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Self-discipline
  • Good judgment
  • Negotiation skills
  • Good communication skills (both oral and written)
  • Control over your emotions
  • Physical ability to restrain inmates
  • Physical strength
  • Stability
  • Independence
  • Persistence
  • Ambition
  • Practical
  • Confidence
  • Enterprising

Federal Correctional Officer Requirements

For those who wish to apply for positions working within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), you must meet these requirements:
 
• Be a U.S. citizen
• Be older than 18 and younger than 37
• Have no prior felony convictions
• Pass a medical examination, including drug test
• Pass a physical examination
• Pass the Physical Abilities Test (PAT), which tests your ability to:
  • Stand and walk for up to an hour
  • See a figure a quarter mile away or an object 250 yards away
  • Self-defense
  • Use firearms
  • Hear/detect movement
  • Smell smoke and drugs
  • Lift, drag, carry objects
  • Drag a 75 lb. dummy 3 minutes for 694 feet
  • Complete obstacle course in 58 seconds
  • Run a quarter mile and apply handcuffs in 2 minutes 35 seconds
  • Climb rungs of a ladder and retrieve item in 7 seconds
  • Climb up and down 108 steps with a 20 lb. weight belt in 45 seconds
• Pass a background investigation
• Hold a bachelor’s degree OR have three years of experience in any of the following areas:
  • Counseling
  • Providing assistance to individuals
  • Providing guidance/direction to individuals
  • Selling products or services on commission
  • Have worked in one of the following fields:
    • Clergy
    • Nurse
    • Emergency medical technician
    • Firefighter
    • Children’s daycare worker
    • Security guard
    • Commissioned salesperson
    • Social worker
    • Teacher
    • Counselor
    • Rehabilitation work
    • Supervision of recreational programs
    • Management or supervisory work directly supervising others
    • Juvenile delinquent officer
    • Parole and probation officer

State and Local Correctional Officer Requirements

States and local jurisdictions each have their own requirements for correctional officers to fulfill. Generally, they include:

  • Being at least 18 or 21 (states vary in this requirement)
  • Having a high school diploma/GED
  • Having no previous felony convictions
  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Having a valid driver’s license
  • Some states require college coursework in criminal justice, behavioral or social sciences
  • Some states will allow applicants to substitute military or law enforcement experience for coursework
  • Some states require that you have work experience (not necessarily in a particular field)
  • Pass a written test
  • Pass a physical activity/fitness test (the requirements for such testing will be similar to the PAT for federal correctional officers listed above, and usually includes, at a minimum:
    • Being able to perform at least 20 pushups in 90 seconds
    • Completing a 300-meter run
    • Completing at least 25 sit ups in 90 seconds
    • Completing a 1.5-mile run
    • Completing 35 squat thrusts in three minutes
  • Pass a background investigation
  • Pass a medical exam and drug screening
  • Pass a psychological exam

Things That Will Disqualify You from Becoming a Correctional Officer

Do you wish to become a correctional officer but are not sure that something in your present or past will allow you to do so? Check this list to see what could disqualify you from becoming a correctional officer at the federal, state or local level:

  • Felony conviction
  • Drug offenses (whether they were felony or misdemeanor)
  • Failing a drug test
  • Being an undocumented worker
  • Being older than 37 (for federal correctional officer job)
  • Having a poor credit history
  • Not being able to pass the physical fitness test or training once hired

Examples of Pre-Employment Test Questions Correctional Officers May Face

Although every state asks its aspiring correctional officers different questions on its pre-employment examinations, there are some general topics and concepts that may be covered. Here are a few examples of questions and issues on which you might be queried, taken from various state correctional department tests:

  • Memory and observation
    • Study a photo for one minute and then answer four questions about that photo, without having the opportunity to look at the photo again
  • Verbal reasoning
    • Read a list of facts and examine a conclusion. State whether the conclusion is true, false or undetermined based upon those facts
  • Reading comprehension/deductive reasoning
    • Read a definition, and answer two multiple choice questions following it
  • Situational reasoning
    • Read a passage that describes a situation, and answer two multiple choice questions that follow it
  • Arithmetic
    • Perform simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems
  • Flexibility of Closure
    • Tests the ability to identify a known pattern hidden within other distracting material
  • Information ordering
    • Ability to identify the best order of actions or steps
  • Spatial orientation
    • Ability to understand how to navigate within spaces or how to get from one point to another
  • Written expression
    • Ability to communicate thoughts
  • Non-cognitive traits
    • Work styles – how you respond to people and situations
    • Biographical experiences – how experiences in your life resulting from your abilities, interests and personality have affected your behavior and traits
  • Video human relations test
    • Some correctional departments make applicants take and pass a video human relations test. This focuses on using good judgment in supervision inmates, public relations, and working as part of a team. Applicants will watch a video segment and choose the best course of action from multiple-choice answers, with 10 seconds to answer each question.
  • Incident observation and report writing test
    • Some correctional departments have applicants watch video situations and write a brief report based upon their understanding of and determination of that situation.

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