Corrections Officer Job Description: What You'll Do

Here’s What You’ll Do in a Career in Criminal Justice as a Corrections Officer

Students can enter the corrections field in many ways, but earning a criminal justice bachelor's degree can help them gain access to the profession while also improving their employability and growth potential. While a high school diploma often represents the minimum requirement for corrections officers, federal prisons may require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree.

Furthermore, many corrections officers must complete an academy training program, which requires candidates to understand legal regulations and operations, as well as various institutional policies and security procedures. Earning a criminal justice degree can help prepare for this. Read on for an in-depth description of the corrections officer position and how choosing the right degree can lead to a promising career in the field.

What Does a Corrections Officer Do?

Corrections officers typically work as government employees in prisons, jails, and detention centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 54% of these professionals work for the state government, 37% work for the local government, and 4% work for the federal government. The remaining 5% work in facilities support services.

While corrections officers typically receive pay that exceeds the national average for all jobs, working as a government employee also offers other perks, like health and life insurance and competitive retirement provisions. Within government institutions, corrections officers work in a more structured environment as far as promotions and raises go. According to PayScale, experienced professionals with 10-19 years of experience enjoy a 40% increase in their salary compared to entry-level workers in the field.

The main responsibility of a corrections officer is to guard and ensure the safety of the institutionalized and other personnel.

Corrections officers mostly work in their respective facilities, but the career may take these professionals into a variety of environments. In addition to public and private outreach, corrections officers may travel to courtrooms and other facilities, often while in transit with prisoners. The duties and environments also change with job title, such as jailer, custody assistant, detention deputy, or correctional sergeant.

The main responsibility of a corrections officer is to guard and ensure the safety of the institutionalized and other personnel. Some day-to-day duties may include inmate supervision, rule enforcement, conduct reporting, and ensuring that safety standards are met. These officers perform daily checks on prisoners and facilities. This may include performing headcounts and verifying prisoner health, along with checking the doors, locks, and windows in the facility.

While maintaining the health and safety of everyone in contact with the facility, corrections officers sometimes engage in conflict resolution and the de-escalation of potentially dangerous situations. Officers also carry the responsibility of observing and reporting on events. This requires a strong understanding of legal procedures, institutional guidelines, and laws. The following list highlights some of the qualities corrections officers benefit from.

What are the Qualities a Corrections Officer Should Have?

  • Communication

    Officers need strong communication skills, including oral, listening, and written competencies. The position requires officers to comprehend duties and orders and provide valuable information in a clear and concise manner through reports and oral presentations.

  • Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

    Once a conflict erupts, officers need skills to de-escalate the situation. They often settle disputes using verbal negotiating techniques, reason, or simply by listening. Sometimes, these situations require physical and self-defense training.

  • Observation

    Strong observational skills allow officers to perform the daily tasks of inmate and facility checks, along with the reporting that comes with the position. Corrections officers rely on their powers of observation to reflect on situations and accurately relay that information to those who were not present.

  • Compliance

    The structure and legal guidelines that govern government institutions require professionals to closely follow a strict set of rules and standards. With every action, corrections officers should use good judgement and take advantage of their training to ensure they adhere to the laws and policies in place.

  • Perceptiveness

    This career requires the ability to assess people and situations to determine and ensure the best possible outcomes. To keep everyone safe, professionals need the ability to identify problematic situations. They also require the awareness and insight to know why people act in certain ways.

What Education Is Required to Become a Corrections Officer?

The corrections officer profession accepts candidates with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. With a relevant bachelor's degree in a field like corrections or law enforcement, for example, candidates possess specialized training that may give them an advantage during the application process and in a training academy program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Corrections

A bachelor's degree in corrections provides students with specialized training in the field. Many universities across the country offer these programs to better prepare students for the operational requirements of the profession. Students also learn about the legal aspects they must understand and adhere to. Learners may delve into psychological elements in these programs, studying negotiation, rehabilitation, and leadership tactics. Depending on the course load and transfer credits available, most students complete these degrees in four years.

As with most bachelor's degrees, students typically complete 120 credits in corrections programs. In addition to focused corrections theory and training, many programs require students to complete general education courses, communication classes, and even physical training. To provide students with practical experience, corrections programs often include practica or internships. For learners who are unsure about their future plans, corrections degrees allow for some flexibility, often offering courses that cover the juvenile justice system, judicial administration, and community-based corrections.

Bachelor’s Degree in Law Enforcement

A bachelor's degree in law enforcement equips students with specialized training related to public safety and the legal system. While students pursuing law enforcement often seek policing careers, these programs also provide training for a variety of other criminal justice professions.

These degrees offer foundational training that covers general education, the criminal justice system, and American law. Participants may also take psychology and crisis prevention training. In these courses, students learn how to assess and de-escalate potentially dangerous situations involving inmates.

As an increasingly popular degree, law enforcement programs can be found in every state. Typically, these programs require 120 credits and take four years to complete. In addition to the components discussed above, law enforcement programs typically feature internships or practica in a law enforcement setting. Students can use these practical experiences to pursue experiential learning in their target job environment. Furthermore, law enforcement programs often include physical training, which may benefit candidates later in their careers.

Explore More Degrees in Criminal Justice and Corrections

Where are Corrections Officers Employed?

Corrections officers jobs are expected to decrease by 7.7% between 2016 and 2026, according to Projections Central. The table below shows the states with the highest number of people employed in this job, along with the number of individuals working in this occupation as of May 2018.

Top States for Corrections Officer Careers
State Number Employed
New York 35,460
California 34,980
Florida 33,060
Pennsylvania 16,850
North Carolina 15,720

Source: BLS

The following table shows the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest number of people employed as corrections officers, along with the number of individuals working in this occupation as of May 2018.

Top Cities and Metropolitan Areas for Corrections Officer Careers
City / Metropolitan Area Number Employed
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 21,390
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 8,460
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 6,890
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 6,660
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 5,700
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 5,540
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,790
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 4,370
Bakersfield, CA 4,270
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 3,950

Source: BLS

Want to Learn More about Corrections Officer Jobs?

Explore Corrections Officer Salary Information

Many of the industries and positions in this field pay workers above-average salaries. The federal government, for example, features median annual wages of more than $58,000 for correctional officers and jailers.

The following link provides a comprehensive look at the salary information for corrections officers.

Learn More about Corrections Officer Salaries

Explore More Careers in Criminal Justice

The corrections officer profession offers students a promising career, but it may not meet everyone's interests. For students looking for more information on other criminal justice degrees and careers, the following links are a great place to start.