Career Overview: Correctional Officer

What They Do

Correctional officers are responsible for the supervision of detained individuals. Many of the detained individuals are awaiting trial or have already been convicted of a crime. The primary responsibility of a correctional officer is to maintain order in a detention center. They must adhere to the rules of the facility and enforce regulations so that detained individuals are kept safe and act in an orderly way. Correctional officers may also be called on to settle disputes between inmates, enforce disciplinary actions and perform inspections. The schedules for correctional officers tend to change from week to week due to the need for 24-hour surveillance in a prison or jail. Overtime is often required as well.
Depending on the particular position of a correctional officer and the size and kind of the institution, he or she may also be responsible for inspecting visitors, mail and the personal cells of inmates for contraband items like drugs or weapons. Safety is a chief responsibility of a correctional officer, which involves checking the facility for fire hazards, regulatory infractions and sanitary regulations. All of the daily duties of a correctional officer are recorded in a log, and officers are held responsible for serious altercations and breaches of security.

Career Growth

There are many career opportunities for correctional officers. They may work for or be trained by agencies such as the American Correctional Association or the American Jail Association. Any institution with a detainment facility needs correctional officers. After several years of experience, a correctional officer can move up to the position of a correctional sergeant. Other career moves may include probation officers or police officers. The field of corrections is expected to experience a 5 percent rise in jobs over the next few years. Some correctional officers work for private prisons, while others are considered state or county employees.

Salary Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for correctional officers is around $39,000. Bailiffs, a similar occupation, make around $37,000 a year. Many correctional officers also receive benefits like uniforms or a clothing allowance and retirement benefits.


Typically, an individual wishing to pursue a career as a correctional officer must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some state prisons or corrections agencies may require officers to have earned college credit. Federal prisons, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, require entry-level correctional officers to have a bachelor’s degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. In a criminal justice degree program, a student will learn important skills and knowledge relating to elements of the criminal justice system, juvenile delinquency and human diversity. In addition to education, three years of experience in a field relating to corrections that involves counseling, assistance and supervision may also be required for prospective correctional officers.