Correctional Officer Career/Jobs/Job Description

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor notes that as of 2019, correctional officers held approximately 442,000 jobs nationwide. Jobs for correctional officers are available in a multitude of settings and types of facilities, beyond the traditional prisons and jails. Federal prisons, state and local prisons and jails, private prisons, residential facilities, substance abuse facilities, and more all employ correctional officers. The largest employer of correctional officers in 2019 was state government, at 53 percent; followed by local government, at 37 percent; then facilities support services, at 5 percent; and finally, federal government prisons, at 4 percent. Here, we will examine the many different types of correctional officer careers and job descriptions available to qualified applicants. 

What Does the Job of a Correctional Officer Involve?

Correctional officers are primarily responsible for maintaining safety and order within detention and incarceration facilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These facilities may house a variety of types of inmates, from adults to juveniles to ex-convicts to substance abusers to the mentally ill. Correctional officers are responsible for ensuring the overall security of inmates under their care and supervising their daily activities. They must monitor compliance to the established rules and regulations of the facility as well as with federal, state, and local laws and ordinances. 

How Can I Qualify for a Job as a Correctional Officer?

Every facility and system has its own requirements that applicants must meet in order to be considered for the job of a correctional officer. In general, most facilities mandate that:

  • Applicants are at least 18 years of age (many require applicants to be at least 21)
  • Applicants have at least a high school diploma or GED
  • Applicants have a valid driver’s license
  • Applicants are of good moral character
  • Applicants possess U.S. citizenship/resident alien status

Some facilities, like federal prisons or specialized treatment facilities, require that correctional officers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field. These include psychology, criminal justice, juvenile justice, counseling, and sociology. 

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Correctional Officer?

On-the-job training is provided for most correctional officer positions. Usually this comes in the form of a training academy that may last from a few weeks to a few months. This training includes classroom work as well as practical, hands-on training. Skills that a good correctional officer should possess include:

  • Effective communication skills, both orally and in writing
  • Good judgment and decision-making skills to quickly assess a situation and determine the appropriate response
  • Good perceptional ability to monitor multiple activities and individuals and predict future behavior
  • Being understanding and sensitive to the emotions, conditions and motivations of people of various backgrounds

What are the General Job Duties of a Correctional Officer?

In general, correctional officers are responsible for:

  • Receiving inventory and tracking personal property of all inmates
  • Searching inmates and their cells for contraband
  • Inspecting the condition of facilities/cells and housing units for security and cleanliness
  • Overseeing work assignments of inmates
  • Monitoring conformance of inmates to facility rules and regulations
  • Preparing documentation for booking new inmates and releasing existing inmates
  • Documenting inmates’ activities and monitoring their movements throughout the facility
  • Transporting inmates to various places outside the facility, including court, medical centers and work assignments

Where do Correctional Officers Work?

The work environment of a correctional officer can be stressful and challenging. It can be a dangerous, difficult job. Correctional officers may be injured on the job, and, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have one of the highest rates of injury and illness compared to all other occupations in the U.S. Correctional officers must always remain alert and ready to act for the duration of their shift. They must work all hours of the day, as prisons and jails are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Overtime hours are common in correctional officer jobs.

As mentioned above, correctional officers work in a variety of facilities, and each place will carry its own job responsibilities and job description for its correctional officers. Some examples of recently advertised positions for correctional officers in the United States include:

Local/County Correctional Officer Job 

  • Baltimore County Department of Corrections – Correctional Officer 
    • Starting salary: $44,658 per year
    • Requirements:
      • High school diploma/equivalent
      • 18 years of age or older
      • Citizen of U.S. or resident alien
      • Successfully pass a background investigation
      • Successfully complete a polygraph exam and psychological exam
      • Successfully complete a physical and medical exam
    • Duties include:
      • Assist in receiving/discharging of inmates
      • Assure inmates are searched, bathed, clothed and assigned to cells
      • Confine and release inmates from cells
      • Monitor inmate activities
      • Drive county vehicles to transport and escort inmates to and from medical facilities and other locations
      • Supervise inmates on work details
      • Patrol, on foot, the internal and external perimeters of the facility, making periodic inspections of conditions
      • Enforce rules and regulations governing conduct
      • Examine packages to be received by inmates
      • Maintain discipline and orderly conduct
      • Break up fights among inmates, restraining disorderly inmates
      • Use appropriate self-defense tactics to deflect assault by inmates
      • Administer CPR/first aid
      • Investigate and handle emergencies and disorders
      • Operate radios, transmitters and communication equipment
      • Prepare routine reports and records
      • Keep inventory of various items
      • Attend state-mandated training

Federal Correctional Officer Job

  • Correctional Officer, Federal Bureau of Prisons – openings in North Central and Western U.S. 
    • Starting salary: $43,495 annually (GS-5 level)
    • Requirements:
      • Must be between the ages of 21 and 36
      • Must be a U.S. citizen 
      • Must have no felony convictions/pass background check
      • Must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, social science or related field
      • Must pass physical, medical and psychological examination
    • Duties include all of the above (under the county position) plus:
      • Provide supervision, care and correctional treatment of inmates
      • Enforce rules and regulations governing facility security, inmate accountability and inmate conduct
      • May carry firearms and use physical force when authorized to maintain control of inmates
      • Complete training academy course
      • Pass Physical Abilities Test

State Correctional Officer Job

  • Corrections Officer Trainee, SCI Albion, Erie County, PA 
    • Starting salary: $40,309 per year
    • Requirements: 
      • Must pass online corrections officer trainee exam
      • Must be a PA resident
      • Must pass background investigation
      • Must pass medical exam and psychological exam
      • Must pass drug screening
    • Correctional Officer Duties include:
      • Direct and indirect contact with inmates and visitors
      • Direct inmates and maintain security in cellblocks, housing units, work areas, dining and recreational areas
      • Observe inmates and behavior and report unusual activity
      • Participate in formal instruction in sociology, psychology, court procedures, self-defense, leadership, custodial responsibilities, and facility organizational structure
      • Provide advice and guidance in assisting inmates in adjustment to and participating in the correctional processes and adhering to departmental rules and regulations

Juvenile Correctional Officer Job

  • Juvenile Correctional Officer – Atlanta Department of Juvenile Justice – Atlanta, GA
    • Starting salary: $30,730 annually
    • Requirements:
      • High school diploma/GED
      • Meet minimum standards of Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council
      • Have valid driver’s license
    • Duties:
      • Enforce relevant rules, regulations, policies and state laws to control and manage juveniles and maintain public safety
      • Escort juveniles to locations within and outside of facility
      • Oversee juveniles during work assignments, meals and recreation
      • Guard facility entrances to screen visitors
      • Inspect, inventory, and maintain control of key logs, tools, related equipment
      • Patrol assigned areas and report problems
      • Prepare facility-related reports
      • Handle and train canines for tracking, search and rescue, guard duty and detection of contraband

Private Correctional Officer Job  (not government-based)

  • Corrections & Security Professional, Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Baltimore, MD 
    • Starting salary: $17/hour ($35,360 annually)
    • Requirements:
      • Meet physical requirements of standing, stooping, lifting, moving objects
      • High school diploma/GED
      • 2-5 years’ experience in human services, security, corrections or related field; or two years of college education substituted for experience
      • Working knowledge of computers
    • Duties:
      • Work with justice-involved adults to positively re-integrate into community
      • Monitor operations of the facility by supervising all activities of residents, observing and identifying residents in unauthorized locations and communicating with resident service staff and program management regarding appropriate corrective actions
      • Conduct regular and periodic resident counts and facility/perimeter rounds
      • Inspecting rooms, offices and service areas
      • Maintain resident sign in/out log
      • Ensure safe, secure, efficient facility and program 24 hours a day