How to Become a Correctional Officer in California

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the entire nation. The department is responsible for over 150,000 inmates and parolees. They have focused recruiting efforts on hiring and developing quality Peace Officers to serve in difficult and dangerous environments. The CDCR has established high expectations for its 65,000+ employees.

The CDCR recruits candidates willing to demonstrate service through involvement with the public, leadership while serving as positive role models, integrity by maintaining professionalism, and accountability to the public and the CDCR. 

WHAT DOES A CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONAL OFFICER DO  

Correctional Officers perform duties that vary among institutions and designated posts within an institution due to different security levels of inmates, design of correctional facilities, geographical location, watch assignment, and the number of inmates. Assignments for Correctional Officers include duty in towers, housing units, reception centers, kitchens, outside crew supervision, search and escort, control booths, yard, gun posts, and transportation.

As a Correctional Officer with the CDCR, you’ll have a variety of career paths from which to choose. You may work as a:

  • Correctional Counselor
  • K-9 Officer
  • Parole Agent
  • Internal Affairs Special Agent
  • Correctional Safety Special Agent

You can also work with specialized teams within the CDCR:

  • Investigative Services Unit
  • Crisis Response Team
  • Gang Task Force
  • Fugitive Apprehension Team
  • Transportation Unit

The CDCR enhances public safety and promotes successful community reintegration through education, treatment, and active participation in rehabilitative and restorative justice programs. As part of this team, you will directly or indirectly support each of these activities.

You will assist the department in accomplishing its mission of facilitating the successful reintegration of the individuals in its care back to their communities better equipped and more employable by providing a diverse range of services.  

The CDCR expects you to serve as a model to the inmate population. You will need to instill pride, discipline, and respect through interactions with the inmates. You will face mental, physical, and emotional challenges while performing your duties. You will be expected to address these challenges adequately according to policy and procedures. 

officer holding baton

BECOMING A CORRECTIONAL OFFICER IN CALIFORNIA 

The CDCR wants candidates who possess emotional maturity and stability, display a sympathetic and objective understanding of persons in custody, and maintain a satisfactory record as law-abiding citizens. Candidates should demonstrate leadership, tact, and the personal and social adjustment needed for correctional work. Correctional Officers must be willing to work day, evening, or night shifts, weekends, and holidays, and report for duty whenever emergencies arise. 

Candidates must complete several steps to be eligible for a Correctional Officer appointment. All information submitted for consideration at every phase of the selection process must be accurate, complete, and truthful. 

Candidates must take a written examination and achieve a score of 70 or greater. 

The written test consists of multiple choice and true or false questions designed to measure cognitive ability, situational judgment, reading comprehension, job knowledge, and problem-solving/decision-making skills.

Candidates must also complete the following components:

  • Physical Fitness Test 
  • Computerized Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA)
  • Background Investigation
  • Vision Screening
  • Peace Officer Psychological Evaluation (POPE)
  • Pre-employment medical exam (PEM)

Candidates who pass the written test are placed on the eligibility list. Candidates who clear the background investigation are given a conditional offer of employment, contingent upon completing the remaining selection components.

Candidates receiving and accepting assignments as Correctional Officers must complete a 13-week, comprehensive training program at the Basic Correctional Officer Academy (BCOA) located in Galt, a suburb of Sacramento, California. 

Candidates are encouraged to refresh or develop their analytical, writing, and memory retention skills; maintain their physical fitness, and take a weapons course before reporting to the BCOA. 

Failure to pass the BCOA will result in rejection from the Correctional Officer classification during probation. 

CALIFORNIA EDUCATION AND CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS FOR CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS

California has invested heavily in developing its new Peace Officers. The CDCR has taken steps to bridge the gap between the foundational instruction provided at the Basic Correctional Officer Academy (BCOA) and the application of that training once they arrive at their assigned institution. The CDCR has implemented a job shadowing program (JSP) for newly appointed correctional officers, helping them transition to an institutional environment.

Minimum requirements include: 

  • Education
    • Possessing a high school diploma issued by a U.S. institution or
    • Passing the California High School Proficiency test or
    • Passing the General Education Development (GED) test or
    • Possessing a college degree from an accredited college or university
  • Citizenship
    • Be a U.S. citizen or
    • Be a permanent legal resident who is eligible for and has applied for citizenship
  • Pass a drug screening Test
  • Be at least 20 years of age at the time of application and 21 years of age at the time of appointment
  • Have a history of law-abiding behavior
  • Be legally eligible to own, possess, and have custody of any firearm or other weapon authorized by the CDCR
  • Have a valid Class C driver’s license

OPTIONAL PATH TO CERTIFICATION IN CALIFORNIA  

The CDCR has waived the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) for United States military and veteran candidates who provide certification of meeting military physical fitness standards.   

CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEGREES IN CALIFORNIA  

Correctional Officers are eligible for an educational incentive of $135.00 per pay period. Correctional Officers may request the educational incentive pay if they have attained an Associate, Bachelor, or higher degree; 60-semester units; or the equivalent quarter units from an accredited college or university.

Some examples of Criminology and Criminal Justice degree programs offered at California institutions include:

University of California, Irvine: The distinctive, interdisciplinary undergraduate major in Criminology, Law & Society (CLS) focuses on the problem of crime and on understanding the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that interact with the law.

San Diego State University: The criminal justice program at San Diego State University is designed to encourage thoughtful exploration of how criminal justice systems provide “justice” or fail to do so.

University of California, Fresno (Fresno State): The Department of Criminology at Fresno State provides undergraduate education in Criminology for students planning professional careers in the criminal justice field.

CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONAL OFFICER SALARY  

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics lists the average California Correctional Officer salary as $81,170. 

After completing the Academy, cadets move to a higher range in the pay scale. After that, semi-annual and annual adjustments to higher ranges are made until the Correctional Officer reaches the top of the pay scale.

During Academy:  $3,999 per month

After Academy:  $4,920 per month

Top of Pay Scale:  $8,216 per month

Other CDCR benefits include:

  • Medical, Dental, and Vision Insurance
  • Sick and Vacation Leave
  • Paid Holidays
  • Bilingual Pay Incentive
  • 401(k) Plan
  • 457 Deferred Compensation

  

CORRECTIONAL OFFICER JOB PROSPECTS  

The CDCR has ramped up its recruiting efforts and currently offers additional recruitment and retention pay and housing stipends at some priority prisons.

Persons accepting positions at a priority prison will receive an additional $2,600 differential pay (two payments of $1,300). The first payment will be after the completion of six qualifying pay periods. The second payment will be after completing an additional six consecutive pay periods.

  

TOP EMPLOYERS IN CALIFORNIA 

California Department of Corrections and  Rehabilitation

Federal Bureau of Prisons