How to become a Correctional Officer

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Correctional Officer? What Correctional Officers do? Degrees for Correctional Officers, Steps to become Correctional Officer and much more.

A correctional officer is the voice of authority and the supreme source of jurisdiction within a federal secure penitentiary or jail. They ensure the safety and welfare of all the prisoners. They play a key role in rehabilitation and work on a prisoner. They act as an integral part of the criminal justice system, they maintain security and safety by preventing assaults, battery, and any kind onslaught from convicts. Becoming a correctional officer enables you to enforce rules and regulations through effective and thorough communication and the use of progressive and liberal sanctions and punishments.

What does Correctional Officer do ?

One must note that correctional officers have little to no influence outside their place of work. Probation and correction officers work with counselling officers outside the prison to ensure and maintain a smooth flow of communication outside and within the aforementioned prison or penitentiary, These individuals exclusively supervise incarcerated convicts who have been arrested for committing a certain degree of crime. Corrections officers are typically employed by the country,state or the federal bureau depending on their credentials and their education .correctional officers play three main roles - safety facilitators, ensuring detention security and inmate rehabilitation. Correctional officers ensure safety facilitation by:

Personal safety – Most correctional officers are required to complete a rigorous training program that instill skills in the use of firearms, hand-to-hand combat, pepper spray and other non-lethal weapons, like batons.   It is essential that officers in close proximity to prison populations maintain their physical capabilities in case of an attack.

Team safety – The second sphere of safety is with regard to the security of other correctional officers and prison personnel.

Inmate safety – The third safety responsibility is that of the inmates.  The pressures of imprisonment can contribute to depression, anger or hopelessness, and correctional officers must recognize the signs of trouble before they lead to a violent altercation or suicide.  

Steps for becoming Correctional Officer


Consider Being A Correctional Officer

The first step in becoming a correctional officer is to make sure that one is actually willing to pursue the career and guarantee your commitment towards its pursual. One must be a hundred percent sure that this career is the right fit for them, in order to further pursue other steps to accomplish a position as an aspiring correctional officer one must guarantee their commitment toward corrections.


Attend High School 

In order to establish a position as an accomplished correctional officer, a high school diploma or GED is a necessity or even some equivalent of an educational requirement. the following careers are highlighted for the pursual of a corrections officer :

Physical education courses - 

It is an important prerequisite for a correctional officer to be able to physically defend himself and possible infants against a sudden assault or onslaught . in order to determine this condition one must take a physical education course to ascertain the level of fitness.

communication and writing courses- 

Being a corrections officer involves frequent interactions between the bureaucracy as well as inmates. In order to be competent in these interactions and writing satisfactory incident reports , an aspiring officer must have experience in taking an introductory course in communication and writing courses.

Language courses- 

A secure facility or penitentiary usually consists of a multitude of ethnic and racial groups, who in all probability speak various languages. In order to minimize the language barrier and effectively impart commands and regulations, a basic understanding of languages is necessary. 


Meet The Minimum Requirements

They are certain requirements that must be fulfilled in order to become certified as a working and functional corrections officer. Minimum standards include :

  • Be a US citizen 

  • Between the ages of 20-37

  • No disqualifying criminal convictions 

  • Stable financial history

  • Bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related discipline 

  • Physically and mentally capable 

  • Valid driver's license 

  • High school diploma 


Complete Education

As mentioned earlier a minimum requirement for this job would include a high school diploma and/or GED. but the earning of a masters degree or an associate's degree would widen the field of opportunities. especially in relation to the federal bureau. 

Certificate - the pursual of a certificate program is quite popular amongst high school students to acquire formal (but limited) corrections training. These programs include the following extensive classes:

  • Introduction to criminology 

  • Introduction to criminal justice 

  • Introduction to corrections

  • Introduction to law enforcement 


Pass The Required Exams

Many potential employers and jurisdictions insist on a written or physical exam to be attempted by the potential applicants. This exam would usually contain a legal aspect pertaining to the lawful incarceration of convicted individuals, the physical aspect would include a test to ascertain the level of health and fitness possessed by the applicant, and finally, a psychological test to assess the emotional and mental stability of the employee.


Become A Sworn Officer

In order to become an accredited correctional officer, an oath of office must be taken. This is a sworn verbal and written vow to uphold the duties of a corrections officer. The oath is a pledge to :

-enforce rules

-supervise the activities of inmates

-search inmates for contraband

-report inmate misconduct

Correctional Officer Degree Levels


In order to pursue a career in corrections, one must have a basic high school diploma or GED. following which one may pursue an associate's degree for an opportunity of additional instruction in the field of corrections. This degree usually lasts for around 2 years, and the curriculum includes the following, 

-supervision and control 

-Controlling and intervening 

-conflict resolution strategies


Individuals who wish to make it in the federal corrections field typically require a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree is earned over a period of 4 years and brings with it the expansion of opportunities to include supervisory and management roles and figureheads. A bachelors degree takes four years to complete and it is comprised of the following courses:

Addiction within the criminal justice system
  • Rehabilitation and intervention tools
  • Addictions and diagnoses
  • Clinical intervention and cure 
Penal Law
  • History of US penal law 
  • Application of prison laws
Detention basis
  • Operation of prisoners and convicts
  • Inmate traits and characteristics


It is highly uncommon for an individual to hold a master's degree in corrections, however, most degrees arent exclusively corrections based, but rather have a corrections component. Such courses include:

-community corrections

-juvenile criminal system

Salary of a correctional officer

The median annual wage for correctional officers and jailers in secure facilities and penitentiary was $ 39,040 in May 2012. the lowest 10% earned less than $ 27,000 and the top 10% earned more than $ 69,610 . in 2018 the bureau of labor statistics reported a median annual salary of $ 44,400 for correctional officers. typical benefits include health insurance, retirement benefits and a uniform allowance . in addition to the typical benefits officers employed in the public sector receive uniforms and a clothing allowance.

Job growth of a correctional officer

Employment of correctional officers is expected to slightly increase 5% from 2012-2022, which, is incidentally lower than the average occupations. Job growth and benefits are dependent on employment in the private or public sector, the demand for corrections officers are expected to rise and increase slightly over the next decade taking into consideration the population growth, and rising incarceration and conviction rates.

Schools or specific universities 

In order to become an accredited corrections officer, one must enroll in schools that have a specialized and concrete physical education program, communication and writing course along with an extensive language course. Furthermore, seek out universities and colleges such as,

  • Strayer university - degree in criminal justice

  • Capella university - criminal justice 

  • Penn foster - bachelor degree in criminology 

Universities that specialize in criminal justice programs and criminology are suitable for potential corrections officers. The following universities have extensive criminal justice programs and criminology courses-

  • University of Washington 

  • University of North Carolina 

  • Truman state university

  • Brigham state university

  • San Diego university 

Concentrations to consider

There is a myriad of careers related to or adhering to the qualifications of a corrections officer. The following are potential jobs for an aspiring correctional officer-

Probation officer(median salary-$49,360): A probation officer supervises convicts that have temporarily been released from prison on account of good behavior.

Bailiff(median salary-$41,670): Individuals are responsible for the smooth and efficient functioning of the courtroom. Related activities, they are responsible for tasks like escorting possible convicts.

Police officer(median salary-$58,320): Individuals are responsible for the protection of civilians and the maintenance of peace and tranquillity. 

Security guards (median salary-$24,630): Security guards are tasked with the protection of life, property, and assorted assets. They monitor the environment using audio and visual aid.

Preparing yourself for a career in corrections

In order to prepare oneself for a career in corrections certain educational and training paths can be traversed in order to achieve extensive knowledge regarding the science of corrections:

Trade school

vocational and trade schools offer unique opportunities to their students. Some schools provide full degrees, such as the associate, where students can study any number of justice system related subjects, including criminal justice.

Community college

For those interested in getting a degree or certificate, a community college offers a quick and economical method of education. Not only can associate degrees be completed in two years or less, but the cost per credit is also often less, as long as the student comes from an area that the community college serves.

4-year schools

For most entry-level correctional officer positions, a bachelor’s degree is not required; however, it will usually be needed for federal correctional officer entry-level jobs. Even if a bachelor’s degree isn’t required, it can expand the possibilities of future promotions and workplace development.

Training academy

Whether it’s at the private, local or state level, there are many training centers or academies that provide tailored training to future correctional officers. Classroom instruction includes custody and control, mental health issues and laws and regulations. 

Stand out skills

Good judgment. Officers must use both their training and common sense to quickly determine the best course of action and to take necessary steps to achieve the desired outcome.

Interpersonal skills. Correctional officers must be able to interact and effectively communicate with inmates and others to maintain order in correctional facilities and courtrooms.

Negotiating skills. Officers must be able to assist others in resolving differences to avoid conflict.

Physical strength. Correctional officers must have the strength to physically subdue inmates.

Resourcefulness. Correctional officers often encounter dangerous and unpredictable situations that require a quick response. They must determine the best practical approach to solving a problem and follow through with it.

Self-discipline. Correctional officers must control their emotions when confronted with hostile situations.

Related careers

Police officers

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes. Police officers pursue and apprehend people who break the law. They then warn, cite, or arrest them. Most police officers patrol their jurisdictions and investigate suspicious activity. They also respond to calls, issue traffic tickets, and give first aid to accident victims.

The daily activities of police and detectives vary with their occupational specialty, such as canine units and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Whether they work at a local, state, or federal agency also determines job duties; and duties differ among federal agencies because they enforce different aspects of the law

A security guard or gaming surveillance officer-

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers patrol and protect property against theft, vandalism, terrorism, and illegal activity. A security guard’s responsibilities vary from one employer to another. In retail stores, guards protect people, records, merchandise, money, and equipment. They may work with undercover store detectives to prevent theft by customers and employees, detain shoplifting suspects until the police arrive, and patrol parking lots.

Probation officer

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes. they are called community supervision officers in some states, supervise people who have been placed on probation instead of being sent to prison. They work to ensure that the offender is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation. Probation officers write reports that detail each offender’s treatment plan and their progress since being put on probation.