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How To Become A Correctional Officer: Career & Salary Information

Being in charge of overseeing any amount of people can be overwhelming. Imagine looking after more than ten sugar-raged toddlers or being the manager of a large division within a corporate company. Both scenarios seem pretty overwhelming and are probably carried out by extremely able and willing bodies.

Now imagine being in charge of multiple incarcerated inmates in a high security correctional facility. It may be as overwhelming as taking care of toddlers. But that is where correctional officers come in.

Becoming a correctional officer requires you to have certain innate qualities, very specific skills, and training. You would need to have a college or university degree, and training either from a police academy or military training, and you would need to obtain official certification.

Being a correctional officer means being in a profession that deserves to be greatly admired by all facets of society. Read further to find out more about this extremely interesting career path and what you would need to pursue this career.

What Is A Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers are individuals who are placed in charge of overseeing the day-to-day activities of a correctional facility. They are responsible for overseeing all inmates and generally report to a prison warden.

From maintaining safety and security, to ensuring compliance, and preventing violence and escapes from the prison, it is the duty of the correctional officer to ensure that not only are prisoners kept safe, but that other personnel are kept safe from the prisoners.

What Does A Correctional Officer Do?

Correctional officers fulfil a wide array of duties. They are responsible for making sure that inmates are taken care of, that they eat well, and are physically well, and that they don't inflict harm on either themselves or others. This entails an intricate balance of protecting oneself and others without being the one to inflict harm, purposefully or by accident.

From mealtimes, bathroom times, and monitoring prisoners carry out their jobs and duties, correctional officers do not have a moment of breathing space from the moment they clock in, to the moment they clock out.

Additionally, correctional officers are required to regularly inspect the correctional facility for a number of reasons. First, they would need to check that no contraband or weapons have been brought onto the premises. This involves rigorous inspections after visitations and checking the prisoners' cells as well.

They would then need to make sure that there are no unsanitary conditions, that all toilets and sinks are fully functional, and that the safety and security of each cell is in no way compromised. They will also ensure that no rules are broken within the correctional facility.

And lastly, over and above doing the physical work that is required of a correctional officer, they are required to compile and process regular reports on inmates' behavior which could be used in probationary reviews and upcoming court hearings

Steps To Become A Correctional Officer

A role that carries this much weight requires extensive training and certification before one can be considered for this role. Here are the steps you would need to take to become a correctional officer:

Step One: The Right Fit For The Job

As mentioned above, being a correctional officer means being prepared both mentally and physically to work in what some may consider a hostile environment. You will be working with and overseeing people who have committed a wide range of crimes, and it is your duty to carry out your responsibilities with respect and diligence.

You would need to have the physical abilities to restrain an inmate if the situation ever escalate that far, but you would also need to have the communicative skills to deescalate a situation so that it never turns into a physical altercation. You would need to possess negotiation skills and an ability to calm an already heated situation.

Additionally, maintaining your self-control in heated situations, as well as being extremely observant to know if anything is even slightly out of place and observing people's behavior is paramount.

Step Two: Meet The Minimum Requirements

Once you decide if the role of a correctional officer is right for you, you would need to make sure you meet basic requirements which includes being a U.S. citizen, being between the ages of 21 and 37, having no previous criminal offenses, having a high school diploma or a GED, and a bachelor's or associates degree in criminal justice.

Some states may vary in the requirements you would need to have to qualify as a correctional officer. These requirements should be adhered to in the state in which you are hoping to obtain employment.

Step Three: Qualifications And Experience

While the minimum requirement for a correctional officer is just a high school diploma or a GED, to obtain a higher position and to ensure growth in the field, obtaining a bachelor's degree or an associate degree would be extremely beneficial.

Once again, given the environment in which you will work, it would be beneficial to have some form of previous experience, either in law enforcement, or in the military.

Step Four: Apply For The Role

Unfortunately, for the role of correctional officer, submitting an application is not as easy as handing your resume into your nearest correctional facility. For your application to be considered, you may need to complete a number of physical endurance exercises to prove that you have the appropriate physical stamina for the role.

Step Five: Complete The Training

To be successful as a correctional officer, you will need to complete extensive training that comprises of multiple sub-disciplines. You would need to attend a training academy that is specific to correctional services.

This training includes procedural training for the safety of staff and inmates, firearms training, in-service training, legal training, fitness training, and rehabilitative methods training.

Step Five: Get Sworn In

Once you have completed the extensive training and if you have done so successfully, you can then be sworn in as a law enforcement agent and as a qualified correctional officer. You can then fill the position to which you have applied, and you can begin carrying out your duties.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Correctional Officer?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to qualify for a correctional officer's role, the applicant would need a high school diploma or equivalent. However, it has been established that this would only qualify you for an entry level position at a salary on the lower end of the scale.

Working towards, or obtaining an associate, bachelor's, or even master's degree can set you on a path toward career growth. You would need to pursue a degree in a relevant field such as criminal justice, criminology, or behavioral sciences, and you would need to take courses specifically related to the field of corrections.

What Is The Average Salary For A Correctional Officer?

The median annual salary for correctional officers as of May 2021 is $47,920, according to information provided by the BLS.

What Makes A Good Correctional Officer?

Having certain innate qualities will propel you towards success in the role of a correctional officer. These qualities include decisiveness, the ability to effectively communicate and negotiate in hostile environments, and the ability to resolve any disagreements that may arise within the prison.

They are also required to have certain knowledge and eloquently impart that knowledge within a courtroom and other official settings.

Lastly, physical strength is a must and may need to be used if situations call for such extreme measures.


What Is The Highest Salary For A Correctional Officer?

Depending on your qualifications and experience, the highest salary a correctional officer may obtain is $105,540 per year according to the BLS.

How Long Is Correctional Officer's Training In California?

Training from the correctional officer's academy can take 13 weeks to complete, however, if you factor in college or university qualifications, it can take up to seven years to obtain your qualifications before starting in a role as a correctional officer.

What State Pays The Most For Correctional Officers?

The state that has the highest annual salary for correctional officers is the state of Illinois with an adjusted yearly salary of $66,427 according to the BLS.

Is A Correctional Officer A Good Job?

What can be defined as a good job? As a very subjective point, if you are an introverted person who thrives in a quiet environment and is best suited with a cup of coffee in your hand behind a computer at a desk, then no, a correctional officer may not be a good job for you.

However, given its long tenure, and that it is a job from which people rarely get laid off, being a correctional officer is good in terms of its job stability.


Being firm yet understanding and being strong but wise is a unique combination of traits that correctional officers are required to boast. While not ideal for everyone, those selected for these roles are guaranteed to play a titanic role in the rehabilitation of those who have faced incarceration.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you