Working as a Corrections Officer

Get info on job duties, education requirements, and salary outlook

Three police officers in office, portrait
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Perhaps one of the least recognized but most important jobs in criminology and criminal justice is that of the corrections officer. Without qualified and dedicated individuals to staff jails and prisons, order would not be maintained and our entire system of justice would collapse.

Out of sight and out of mind, corrections officers stand guard between the general public and some of the most hardened and dangerous people in the country. They work day in and day out to keep us safe from convicted criminals and to keep them safe from each other. Rarely, if ever, do they receive the first "thank you" for the work that they do.

Job Functions and Work Environment for Corrections Officers

Corrections officers spend the vast majority of their time indoors and locked within corrections facilities. They work in jails, prisons, courthouses and detention centers. They are present with arrestees, defendants, and inmates through every aspect of the criminal justice system, from shortly after the arrest all the way through trial and final incarceration.

Officers work shift work, as correctional facilities must be staffed 24 hours per day. They have many diverse duties and work functions, all of which are integral to the prison system.

The job of a corrections officer often includes:

  • Booking prisoners
  • Searching prisoners
  • Guarding and watching prisoners
  • Preventing fights and potential riots
  • Transporting prisoners to and from court
  • Inventorying possessions of new inmates
  • Working closely with new arrestees
  • Working closely with convicted felons and serious misdemeanants

Corrections officers may work for a local sheriff's office in the county jail, or at a state or federal prison. Some states are beginning to move toward privatization of prisons, meaning corrections staff may work directly for a government agency or they can end up working for a private employer.

Officers who work at a jail deal with a wide range of individuals, because jails house people awaiting trial, those serving sentences for misdemeanors, and those who have been convicted of felonies and are awaiting transport to a state or federal prison facility. Officers who work at prisons generally work only with convicted felons.

Dangers in Corrections Jobs

Corrections is a high risk and high stakes criminology career, due in large part to the nature of the environment itself. In fact, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, corrections officers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries in the United States. Because of this, a job as a corrections officer can be taxing and stressful. It can also be quite satisfying in light of the important role corrections professionals serve in the criminal justice system.

What Do You Need to Do to Become a Corrections Officers

A corrections officer job is one of the many careers in criminology and criminal justice that do not require a college degree. Instead, a high school diploma or GED is all that is needed to get started on your career path.

Extensive academy training and certification will be required in most states, and officers should be in good physical condition due to the potential dangers and stresses of the job.

Communications and interpersonal skills are an absolute must because corrections officers often work in close quarters with dangerous people. Officers often risk being injured during confrontations with inmates. It is in everyone's best interest to treat each other with respect while maintaining a strong command presence.

Job Outlook for Corrections Officers

There is a potential shift toward utilizing private companies to build and run prisons. With such moves, a possibility exists for there to be a reduction in the number of corrections jobs available, depending on which state you want to work in.

In 2010, there were 436,00 people employed as corrections officers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate for corrections officer jobs is expected to be around 5% through 2020.

Salary and Earning Potential for Corrections Officers

The median salary for all corrections officers in the United States is about $39,000 annually. Officers may earn as low as $26,000 and as high as $67,000 per year, depending on their state, agency, and location. The higher paying jobs are typically found​ within the federal government.

Is a Career as a Corrections Officer Right for You?

Working in corrections can provide stable employment with a decent salary, health insurance, and retirement benefits. The tradeoff is that corrections jobs carry a high potential for injury and can be very stressful. 

If you don't mind working in a closed environment and can deal effectively with people of varying dispositions, you may be able to rise to challenge and help make a difference as a corrections officer. In fact, it may just be the perfect criminology career for you.