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What does a Correctional Officer do?

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.

correctional officer

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.

What does a Criminal Investigator do?

Criminal investigators and detectives typically specialize in one area of crime such as homicide, bank robbery, or fraud. Working as an investigator requires knowledge of jurisdictional law, law enforcement policies and procedures, interpersonal skills, verbal and written communication skills, and problem solving and analytical skills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that law enforcement professionals frequently experience dangerous situations and stressful working conditions. As a criminal investigator, you may work at violent crime scenes and encounter severely injured or deceased crime victims.

Still want to work as a criminal investigator?

These professionals are assigned crimes by their agencies and usually work each case from start to finish. Observing crime scenes, interviewing witnesses, victims, and persons connected with the crime scene or suspects is all part of the job. You may also be involved in researching suspects, reviewing statements provided by witnesses, coordinating with colleagues for investigating crimes and developing case files. Unlike the pristine designer clothes worn by TV criminal investigators, you can expect to get “down and dirty” on the job. Criminal investigators work long hours and several days in a row, when working a crime.

Criminal investigator jobs: where they are and what they pay

The BLS reports that the highest number of detective and criminal investigator jobs were found in local government agencies followed by the executive branch of the federal government and state agencies. The highest paying investigator jobs are rare. The top paying employers are the U.S. Postal Service and federal executive branch.

criminal investigator

Criminal investigator education requirements

Members of local police departments can generally progress through the ranks to become detectives, but state and federal positions generally require a bachelor’s degree in administrative justice, criminal justice, law enforcement or related field. As law enforcement officers, criminal justice officers also receive job training through a law enforcement training academy and ongoing on-the-job training.

College coursework includes police science, state and local law, constitutional law and civil rights, investigative techniques and law enforcement technology. Military service and training may substitute for some types of law enforcement training. Criminal investigator positions hired through state and local law enforcement agencies typically require passing a competitive written civil service examination. Reading, language comprehension, quantitative and analytical skills are necessary for passing such exams.

Earning a degree in criminal justice or a related field can help current law enforcement officers fast-track their careers toward a criminal investigator position.

What does a Forensic Pathologist do?

Sudden, unexplained, or suspicious deaths are usually subject to a criminal investigation. Forensic pathologists play an important role in that investigation by helping to explain how and why a person has died.

forensic pathologist

What are the typical responsibilities of a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist is responsible for determining the cause of death when a person dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances. They perform an autopsy or post mortem examination and produce a report that contains details about what has caused the person’s death plus conclusions about the circumstances that have lead to their death based on the interpretation of his or her findings.

A forensic pathologist’s job typically involves some or all of the following:

  • Conducting a full anatomical examination of a body after death
  • Documenting all findings of the examination
  • Highlighting any injuries or diseases that could have resulted in the person’s death
  • Recording the professionals’ opinions about how the identified injuries or diseases have occurred
  • Determining the manner of death: accidental, homicide, natural causes, suicide, or undetermined
  • Determining the identity of the deceased
  • Collecting or photographing evidence such as injuries, bodily tissues or fluids, and fibers or other materials that could be used to determine the circumstances of the person’s death and that may be required as part of a legal investigation
  • Testifying or acting as a witness in a court of law, where the forensic pathologist may be required to explain evidence or findings to non-medical personnel and defend his or her conclusions

In this career, you may often work closely with colleagues in other areas of forensics such as medicine, dentistry, toxicology, and entomology to help them to carry out a thorough examination and draw fully informed conclusions. You are also likely to work closely with legal and criminal investigation personnel, and need to have a detailed understanding of legal processes.

What qualifications do forensic pathologists need?

Forensic pathologists are medically trained professionals (M.D.s) who have completed several years’ training after graduating from medical school. Their additional training takes the form of a residency in anatomical pathology or a combined anatomical and clinical pathology residency plus a fellowship in forensic pathology. This can take a total of up to 16 years: 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of med school, and between 3 and 8 years of internship and residency.

Forensic pathologists are usually employed by Federal, State or local government.

Salaries for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of any occupation in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This indicates the level of financial reward for those who have committed the necessary time and energy to such an intriguing and multi-faceted career.