Corrections officers work in jails and prisons, overseeing prisoners and inmates while maintaining security and safety standards.
Whether in a government corrections facility or working in the private sector, corrections officers provide essential protection services. Corrections officers work in jails and prisons, overseeing prisoners and inmates while maintaining security and safety standards. Corrections officers may need to use physical force or restraint while on duty and often participate in cell searches and facility inspections. They may also prepare reports on inmate conduct.
Corrections officers can also serve as bailiffs, enforcing courtroom rules and procedures, or provide transportation for prisoners and inmates or for judges, witnesses, and jurors. With so many job opportunities, corrections officers can always find a career that suits them.
What Does a Corrections Officer Do?
Corrections officers usually work in both private and public correctional facilities, monitoring and protecting prisoners and inmates. The duties of a corrections officer vary with the security level of the institution where they work, which can be minimum, medium, or maximum security. Duties usually include regulations enforcement through both verbal communication and physical action. Corrections officers must prevent and intervene in disputes that arise between inmates, issuing penalties where appropriate.
Corrections officers must prevent and intervene in disputes that arise between inmates, issuing penalties where appropriate.
Many corrections officers also work in courtrooms, serving as bailiffs. Bailiffs provide security and protection for prisoners, fellow officers, attorneys, judges, jury members, and the public.
Corrections officers supervise prisoners in their daily activities, including during meals, recreational time, and court appearances. They may also participate in rehabilitation exercises with inmates. They also search prison facilities, cells, and visitor areas, seizing any potential contraband items, and maintain records of behavior, infractions, and other security breaches. As such, corrections officers must be detail-oriented, dedicated, and focused.
Learn More About Corrections Officer CareersCorrections Officer Job Description: What You'll Do
The educational, physical, and skill requirements to become a corrections officer vary by position and state. To learn more, students should refer to corrections officer job descriptions like this on to gain insights into the profession.
Corrections Officer Salary and Job Growth
State and local governments employ the majority of correctional officers in the United States. Texas, California, and New York rank highest in the number of correctional officers, with California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts providing the highest salaries.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers and bailiffs earn about $44,000 annually, while probation officers and correctional treatment specialists make around $53,000. In top paying metropolitan areas like Nassau County and Suffolk County, New York, correctional officers earn an annual mean wage exceeding $82,500.
Learn More About Corrections Officer SalariesCorrections Officer Job Salary: What You'll Earn
Corrections officer salaries vary based on education, experience, and geographic and institutional factors. You can learn more about earning potential for corrections officers and colleges in related fields at this website.
Q&A With a Corrections Officer
Andrew Carrico is a certified police officer and prior corrections corporal in Nebraska. He has worked in a maximum-security prison for two years and is going on three years for police and security work with an emphasis on law enforcement in private and public settings.
Why did you decide to become a corrections officer? Was it something you were always interested in?
I decided to become a corrections officer as a large stepping stone for my career into law enforcement and becoming a police officer. I knew that it would help me in dealing with offenders whether violent or not, dealing in leadership roles, and making split-second decisions that could result in injuries to either offender or staff member.
Corrections was honestly something I didn't see myself doing or applying for; however, I became very good at it. I dealt with high-stress situations involving both the person incarcerated and staff members and was able to view myself in separate leadership roles. I was more interested in using the experience from the correctional side to transfer it into a police officer line of work.
Can you tell us a little about your experience working as a corrections officer?
I worked in a maximum security prison in the state of Nebraska. Many people think this holds the worst of the worst people and that is true, but some prisons also house a select group of people. Ours held our death row inmates, as well as most of the inmates who were maximum security level and wanted to be in protective custody. A day could be filled with complete compliance from inmates and staff alike, or would divert into constant forced cell extractions, staff members getting hurt and leaving, or inmates fighting each other.
What were some of the most challenging parts of working as a corrections officer? The most rewarding aspects?
Some challenging parts include the fact that for up to sixteen hours, you are inside the prison with the inmates. It is a feeling of being locked up as well. You are also dealing with people who did harm to others -- sold drugs, or worse -- and don't care about you but will try their best to manipulate you.
It sadly isn't just the inmates you need to watch out for. Unfortunately, working with many people, your staff members may become a problem as well. A new hire is just as harshly judged as a senior worker. Rumors are spread, and anyone can be the person of interest in that. Don't let it deter you from working, but know that this isn't necessarily an aspect of the job that is talked about openly. It is also not an aspect that is dealt with properly if you don't have a solid foundation for your leadership, as well as solid administrative leaders.
The best, rewarding part of the job is actually seeing an inmate decide for himself or herself to turn their life around, run into them in a public setting, and have them remember you as you do them, and they are absolutely winning in their life.
This does happen for the people incarcerated with short sentences, which does not deter them from a good life outside. If you run into them outside of the prison walls, encourage them to succeed and not go down the rabbit hole that they just came from. You were their officer at one point but now, outside, you are not -- you are, in fact, someone who can help further.
How did your work as a corrections officer help with your career transition to working as a police officer? Is this a common career path for those who work as a corrections officer?
Your work as a corrections officer helps tremendously with the transition because it has similar experiences in dealing with persons who have struggled in life with bad choices. It also has a one-up on people who haven't worked in a prison setting. That first-hand experience translates directly into law enforcement, because you will run into it in that field.
This is a very common career path for those seeking to work as a police officer. Some deputy sheriffs are actually first required to work in a prison or jail before being placed out in the field as a deputy on patrol. Many people I worked with used the correctional experience to work toward the police officer or deputy sheriff positions.
What advice would you give to those considering pursuing a career as a corrections officer?
Trust your gut in having fear. It is okay, but that instinct might save your life or those of coworkers and inmates. Be physically fit and mentally strong, because an incarcerated person won't only try to take you over physically but mentally as well.
Inmates have respect and give it to those who give it back. What I mean by that is they have 24 hours a day, every day, to watch you, who you talk to, and how you walk the walk and talk the talk. You cannot bullshit them and if you do, to them, it is like being stabbed in the back. It's the same as stabbing another coworker in the back, but an incarcerated person will harm you, whereas another coworker won't. Be you and be consistent with how you work, as well as being fair and firm with how you do it.
Any final thoughts for us?
It is challenging, but it can be a rewarding job when you get through the tough times. Make sure to train beyond what tools they give you. Start taking self-defense classes, such as jiujitsu and kickboxing, because if you get into a fight, more often than not, they will win.
Remember that incarcerated persons are always watching, so listen to this: When you come in on your first day, the way you act is what they will expect. Be consistent with who you are. So if you come in hard, upholding all the policies, they will expect that, and then you will be easier and better off to lighten up or cool down when you talk to them one on one. But if you come in easy-going and try to be extremely strict, it will not work at all. I have personally seen this, and it won't end well with the incarcerated or with administration and employees.
"Firm, fair, consistent" is what I was taught. Do the right thing in your work and your reports and your job is easier.
Take the Next Step
If you are interested in pursuing a degree in corrections or criminal justice, the resources below provide you with essential information on programs and available corrections officer careers. Finding the best fit for your personal and professional interests requires full exploration of the numerous opportunities the field has to offer.
Explore Degrees in Corrections
Earning a bachelor's degree in corrections provides current and aspiring correction officers with advanced knowledge and training in the field. Many programs offer specializations in juvenile corrections, leadership, and homeland security, with additional options to focus on rehabilitation services.
Explore Other Careers in Criminal Justice
With a degree in corrections or criminal justice, students gain valuable knowledge of law enforcement, the legal system, and homeland security. With a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice field, learners can pursue corrections officer careers, including opportunities in forensics, social services, and border security.
Professional Organizations and Resources for Corrections Officers
Professional organizations for corrections officers and criminal justice professionals offer networking, continuing education, and professional development options alongside access to news and research. By joining a professional organization, corrections officers establish connections while furthering their own professional goals.
Many professional organizations provide training and mentorship programs, advocacy and job board resources, and access to conferences and online discussion forums. Additional benefits include discounts and collaboration opportunities. Below are a few example organizations.
- American Jail Association Formed out of the merger of the National Jail Association and the National Jail Managers' Association in 1981, AJA provides trainings, networking opportunities, and collaboration opportunities to professionals working in prisons across the country. Members gain access to association publications, educational programs, and resources for all stages of their careers.
- International Corrections and Prisons Association ICPA unites corrections and prison associations internationalls, with members in Canada, Belgium, Scotland, and the Netherlands. ICPA offers individual, public sector, and corporate memberships, providing corrections and prison professionals from around the world with access to community and research networks, events and projects, and industry publications and updates.
- American Correctional Association As the oldest professional association for correctional workers in the United States, ACA strives to improve the criminal justice system through leadership, advocacy, and networking opportunities. Members receive access to webinars, publications, and association certifications, plus discounts, newsletters, and conference access.