Correctional officers are an important, but often overlooked part of law enforcement. Just as police officers risk their safety to keep crime at bay, so do correctional officers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers battle one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries in the country.
In exchange for the risk, correctional officers can earn solid salaries without investing years in their education, at least at the local and state levels, making this a worthwhile career consideration for security-oriented jobseekers.
Duties, responsibilities: What does a correctional officer do, anyway?
In short, correctional officers work in prisons and other detention centers, overseeing convicted criminals and those awaiting trial to ensure their safety and overall cooperation. Working for local, state or federal institutions, these professionals ensure facility rules are followed and that inmates don’t escape. This requires a good deal of observing and patrolling, but also the potential for a lot of paperwork when security is breeched.
Training requirements: How do I become a correctional officer?
Local and state correctional officers are typically direct-entry professionals, meaning they tend to enter the field straight out of high school or the workforce rather than college. According to the BLS, most correctional officers complete academy-based training and then bolster their training on the job. Lessons include custody and security procedures, institutional policies and regulations and a primer in inmate rights.
Most local or state institutions require a high school diploma or an equivalent, but relevant college credits or even a degree in an area like criminal justice or police science can improve your employment prospects.
Most federal facilities require a bachelor’s degree, three years in the field or some combination of education and experience. While military experience is a plus, the Federal Bureau of Prisons notes that it is no replacement for the proper training.
Career, salary outlook: Will becoming a correctional officer pay off?
The future is generally bright for correctional officers. The BLS reports that positions among corrections professionals are projected to grow by 9 percent. What’s more, the demanding nature of the profession has made it difficult for many local and state agencies to attract new officers, so career competition is limited. Positions among federal correctional officers are more competitive, but with the right combination of training and experience, still well within reach.
While correctional officers’ earnings are tepid compared to many law enforcement professionals, these professionals still enjoy solid earnings given their often limited educations. Those working at the federal level tend to earn more than state and local positions.