Warden Job Description: What You'll Do

Many people choose to become wardens out of a sense of justice and desire to serve others. A career as a warden often begins with earning a bachelor's degree. While correctional institutions may not require a criminal justice major, the degree can offer a solid foundation for a career in corrections. Aspiring wardens can use this guide to learn more about a bachelor's degree or doctorate in the field and follow links to research related careers. The guide also provides a brief overview of the fundamentals of a degree in corrections along with a warden's job description and typical character traits for this role.

What Does a Warden Do?

As is the case with other law enforcement positions, such as sheriffs or police officers, a warden's ultimate goal centers on maintaining peace, safety, and order for the general population. Wardens achieve that goal by managing a single correctional institution, like a prison, juvenile detention center, or jail. Sheriffs, usually elected by popular vote, manage some county jails.

At the state and federal level, wardens typically govern the day-to-day activities of correctional institutions. Often, that means they serve as government employees, but federal and state governments may also contract prison management from private companies. In these cases, duties may get split between a warden, who takes responsibility for security issues, and a facilities director, who leads the operational components of a prison.

A warden's job description can take him/her from a single cell dealing with a challenging inmate to hospitals with ill prisoners, legislative sessions, meetings in the state capitol, and leadership sessions. Because prisons exist all over the country, wardens may find work in many states or cities.

Wardens achieve that goal by managing a single correctional institution, like a prison, juvenile detention center, or jail.

Wardens usually gain their positions after earning at least a bachelor's degree -- usually in criminal justice -- and accruing 10-15 years of experience in the field.

Prison wardens serve as the chief executives of their institutions. Under the guidance of state or federal agencies and in congruence with relevant laws, wardens take responsibility for keeping their prisons safe and secure for residents and correctional officers alike. As such, their jobs include assuring the facility meets all codes and regulations, hiring and firing staff, delegating responsibilities, making financial decisions, and addressing crisis situations that may arise.

Wardens oversee the staff members who provide direct services to inmates, including food service, mental health service, education, security, spiritual support, and entertainment. Supervising these staff means hiring the best candidates, offering professional training and support, and acquiring the resources those candidates need to do their jobs well. Along with leadership and personnel responsibilities, wardens must show expertise in budget creation and financial management. According to PayScale, warden positions require robust leadership skills and a strong sense of justice.

What are the Qualities a Warden Should Have?

Conflict Management

Wardens must use critical thinking skills and evidence-based decision-making strategies to anticipate, address, and analyze conflicts that invariably occur among staff, residents, and families.

Team Building

A warden's job duties include creating and cultivating a robust corporate culture in a challenging system. Wardens manage a team of correctional officers, administrators, nurses, chaplains, educators, and transportation professionals working in a high-stress environment.

Fiscal Leadership

A warden's job description includes preparing, analyzing, and presenting a budget for funding. Wardens also take responsibility for ensuring their institution remains in compliance with the established budget and relevant regulations.

Organizational Communication

The responsibilities of a warden include establishing a positive culture where employees communicate efficiently, respectfully, and effectively while also keeping external stakeholders aware of important events and information.

Strategic Planning

Wardens set facility priorities, focus resources, establish common goals, and assess achievement toward those goals -- all components of strategic planning. In the corrections system, individual institutional plans need to fit seamlessly into larger state- or federal-level plans.

What Education Is Required to Become a Warden?

Prison wardens arrive at their careers by many different paths. Most hold an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree in criminal justice or a related field along with many years of experience in correctional work. The American Correctional Association provides postdegree certifications that help many junior corrections professionals meet warden requirements.

Bachelor's Degree in Corrections

A bachelor's degree in corrections combines a general education background with a core curriculum in criminal justice and specialized coursework in corrections. Students typically take courses such as preparing for a career in public safety, correctional law for the correctional officer, and corrections in the 21st century. In most cases, learners conclude their degrees with a capstone project. These undergraduate corrections programs usually require 120-130 credits and take 3-4 years to complete.

Most corrections careers, including warden positions, require some higher education. Aspiring correctional nurses, counselors, probation officers, and bailiffs can benefit from a bachelor's degree in corrections. Colleges and universities across the country offer on-campus and online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and other related fields that emphasize corrections. Some schools even combine areas like nursing or psychology to create bachelor's degrees in forensic nursing or forensic psychology for those who anticipate careers as nurses and counselors in prisons and juvenile detention centers.

Doctoral Degree in Public Safety Administration

Earning a doctorate in public safety administration can help professionals advance in a career in fire safety, disaster management, national security, or law enforcement. This degree can take the form of a doctor of public administration, doctor of public health, or a traditional Ph.D. Learners may choose to specialize in areas of applied study such as criminal justice, emergency management, homeland security, public administration, or public health.

Doctoral coursework typically requires 40-65 credits beyond the master's degree and takes 2-4 years to complete. Learners enroll in classes such as disaster response and recovery, public budgeting and taxation, environmental health, and advocacy and economics. As with most applied doctorates, these degrees typically require a sequence of research courses and a doctoral project rather than a traditional dissertation. By completing a doctorate in a public safety field, experienced practitioners can help organizations and government agencies address complex and unique issues facing local, national, corporate, and global populations.

Explore more degrees in law enforcement and corrections

Where are Wardens Employed?

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails in the United States, with approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated in these facilities. The following states have the highest incarceration rates, which could lead to the need for more wardens, superintendents, directors, and correctional supervisors to oversee these institutions.

Top States for Attorney Careers
State Number Employed
Oklahoma 1,079
Louisiana 1,052
Mississippi 1,039
Georgia 970
Alabama 946
Arkansas 900
Texas 891
Arizona 877
Kentucky 869
Missouri 859
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018

Want to Learn More about Warden Jobs?

Explore Warden Salary Information

According to PayScale, a prison warden earns an average salary of $85,575 plus generous bonuses and profit-sharing benefits. Click the link below to learn more about the financial benefits of a career as a prison warden.

Learn more about warden salaries

Explore More Careers in Criminal Justice

Prospective students interested in a criminal justice career outside of serving as a warden can follow the links below to learn about other related careers and degrees.

Explore criminal justice associate programs Explore criminal justice bachelor's programs Explore criminal justice master's programs Explore criminal justice doctorate programs