How To Become A Correctional Officer

Correctional officers have been in existence since the first prisoners were punished for crimes and held in jails.  It is an old and respectable profession that is not for the faint of heart. It is a profession that changes lives and protects society. It is a profession that is worth the time and effort to become.

Looking at your record

Correctional officers must past many tests in order to be hired. First and foremost is your conduct.  Most agencies will overlook a misdemeanor or two, and a few youthful indiscretions. They will not, however, overlook felonies or a pattern of bad behavior. They also frown on recent criminal activity. That does not mean that you cannot become a corrections officer if you have a small criminal record. It does mean that you will need to wait a while so that the crime is history. Essentially, you will need to pass a background check. Additionally, you must be of good moral character. Your previous employers and your references will be the key to this. Agencies do not want officers who will steal or lie, even if stealing and lying have not been put onto your criminal record. No one is perfect, but you must be trustworthy, and the agencies will be looking for this.

You need a diploma

In addition to behaving, you will need a high school diploma or a GED. The agency will provide you with the training that you need, but further education will give you an advantage. Many agencies will increase your pay grade for completing a four year degree and/or being in the military. You will also need to have a valid driver’s license. The minimum age requirement varies from state to state, but it’s generally as young as 18 years old or as old as 21 years old.

How to start the process

If you meet the above requirements and are a United States citizen, you are ready to become a corrections officer.  To begin with, gather all of your paperwork to turn in to the agency that you apply to. This is going to be a driver’s license, diploma or GED, military paperwork, college degree if you have one, social security card, and in some cases, proof of residency in that state. Once you have the paperwork together, go online and find the Department of Correction’s website for your state. This website will tell you what to do next. The next step is either to take a basic job interest quiz or to simply apply. Finish the quiz if there is one and then fill out your application. The application needs to be thorough and complete. You may have to list all of the jobs that you have held over the past ten years, as well as professional references and casual references. It helps if you have this information handy to refer to before filling out the application.

how to become a correctional officerOnce you have filled out the application you can expect to wait—a lot. Usually the next step includes a basic test that measures your reading comprehension, your problem solving skills, and your memory. After that you will have a physical and a drug test. Some agencies have more steps that require psychological testing, physical fitness testing, and more medical screening, but that varies from agency to agency. Some agencies will interview you several times, but the interview is generally the final step before being hired.

Once you are hired you will have a lot of training ahead of you. There is training at your home agency as well as training at a training facility or academy. The training at the home agency will be to introduce you to your agency’s policy and procedure as well as to introduce you to the life of a correctional officer. You will not be alone as a trainee. You should always have your trainer nearby to ensure that you are doing your job correctly. At some point, as determined by your agency and by the openings available at the training facility, you will go for long training. The long training requires you to stay many weeks—anywhere from six to twelve weeks. During this time, you will learn the basics of being a correctional officer. You will learn laws as they apply to you, first-aid and CPR, how to safely and effectively restrain an individual, how to use a gun, and much more. This part of the training is a combination of class learning and hands on learning, but once you have completed it, you will be certified by your state to be a correctional officer.

Correctional officers are usually given a full year to complete training and be released from the probationary period.  Some agencies are flexible and allow for more time, and some officers catch on much more quickly than others.  But after this, you will be fully prepared to work as a correctional officer. You will have the opportunity to change the lives of inmates and their families. The job can be stressful, but it is very rewarding to know that you gave something good back to society.

Correctional Officer Training

Once you have made the decision to become a correctional officer, you will need to be trained. However, training is something provided by the hiring agency. That means that you only have to have a high school diploma or a GED before applying. Once you have been hired, your agency will train you. The training generally happens at a centralized location that trains other correctional officers from both your agency, and other agencies across your state. You may be expected to spend the night in a hotel or dorm style housing during this time, but the training is thorough, intense, and it will teach you the basics of being a correctional officer.

How Is The Training Set Up?

The training is divided into a classroom portion and a hands-on portion that teaches physical skills. The classroom portion is generally in the style of a lecture complete with tests. This portion is going to cover legal issues and responsibility, codes and laws, the classroom portion of first-aid and CPR, and psychology and behavior.

Legal issues are one of the most areas for correctional officers. Civil rights, due process, and liability govern everything correctional officers do during their shifts. Failure to follow laws can result in serious injury, lawsuits, and even loss of jobs. Additionally, officers must know when and how to charge current inmates with breaking the law if it should happen. Training in the legal issues is one of the most intense and most confusing aspects of correctional officer training, but it is necessary to doing the job properly.

Psychology and behavior is very important to the correctional officer. The correctional officer must know which behaviors are warning flags and when to act. Inmates may have mental health issues, emotional problems, or be suicidal and the correctional officer must know what actions to take in response to concerning behavior. The classroom training for this teaches you what steps to take when you see certain behaviors as well as how to talk to upset, mentally ill, or suicidal inmates as well as how to prevent incidents of violence.

Hands-On Training

correctional officer trainingThe hands-on training includes gun skills, restraint skills, first-aid/CPR, and physical conditioning. It, too, has tests that you must pass. Physical conditioning is a basic requirement.  It ensures that you can do all of the physical aspects of the job. Your hiring agency probably already required you to pass a physical test, but training will require more physical activity. It generally includes running, push-ups, sit-ups, and lifting certain weights. The other hands-on skills all build upon this.

In addition to basic physical fitness, you will learn how to handle a weapon and also how to properly restrain someone. You will learn how to care for and fire a gun and you must meet certain requirements set by your agency.  While correctional officers generally do not have reason to use a gun, accuracy is important in case there ever comes a time when you do need it. Properly restraining someone, on the other hand, is used by a correctional officer on a regular basis. This includes using handcuffs, leg restraints, masks to keep people from spitting, and the proper use of rip-hobbles. Restraints are used for securing and transporting inmates as well as restraining them from hurting themselves or others. In addition, you will learn to properly use a baton in order to subdue an inmate with minimal force and injury.

You will also learn first-aid and CPR. First-aid and CPR are taught in both the classroom and in a hands-on manner. This portion of the training is very important because a correctional officer never knows what will happen on his or her shift.  A small fight between two inmates can result in cuts and bruises or even head injuries.  An inmate or co-worker may choke on a meal or have a heart attack. The correctional officer is going to be the first person to respond to these kinds of emergencies and must be able to handle the situation.

The training is mentally and physically intense.  However, the trainers are not out to trick you or send you home.  The trainers are there to make sure that you have the proper tools and training in order for you to do your job.  With a little bit of hard work, you will survive the training and become a full correctional officer.

Correctional Officer Salary

A correctional officer’s salary can vary from state to state and officer to officer, depending on the training and experience of the correctional officer.  It is a salary that has great health insurance and retirement benefits, and it can comfortably support the average family.  Additionally, there is guaranteed sick time and vacation for the corrections officers. There is job security in that there will always be a need for corrections officers and a majority of the training transfers across state lines. The job of correctional officer is a stable job with stable pay.  It is an excellent job choice for anyone looking for job security.

Salary can vary based on area, experience, and education. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Correctional Officer salary is $39,040 per year (www.bls.gov).  It is a government job meaning that there are also benefits and retirement available. The highest paying state for Corrections Officers is New Jersey with an average income of $69,840 per year while the lowest paying state is Mississippi with an average income of $26,960 per year. In general, the northern states seem to pay more than the southern states with the exception of Maine. California and Alaska are also in the top five paying states for corrections officers.

correctional officer salary

How To Increase Your Pay?

But there are many things a correctional officer can do to increase his or her pay. First and foremost is simply being a good and dedicated worker. Those who work hard and are dedicated can be promoted which increases pay. Corrections departments usually promote from within. They encourage hard work and upward movement. With these promotions come salary increases. This raise can vary based on the budget, but it really adds up over the years. The first pay increase often happens soon after training is complete or within the first year. Promotion opportunities can begin to appear in as little as two years after beginning employment.

Correctional Officers can also receive an increase in salary with training and education.  A college education can increase a correctional officer’s salary by a few thousand dollars. In general, a degree in criminal justice is preferred, but any college degree will suffice. In addition to a college education, military experience is rewarded and encouraged. Military experience increases the salary by several thousand. This is because military training requires tactical and that is important to the job.

There are also often pay increases in the correctional officer’s salary with additional training provided by the agency.  Officers that become training officers can expect additional pay for the training others to be officers.  Officers with specialties can also expect an increase in pay.  Many facilities require special teams of officers with special training.  This may include riot suppression or search teams that are called out during special situations.  The opportunities vary from location to location, but they are there and they do allow for the correctional officer to increase his or her salary.

The correctional officer’s salary is decent pay for dedicated work. The job is not always easy, but the efforts do not go unnoticed. There is always room for upward movement as a correction’s officer, and pay is often increased based on the amount of time that an officer has worked. The officer can choose how little or how much additional training and education he or she wants to be involved in. In other words, the correction’s officer is in charge of his or her pay increases.  It is a job where hard work and dedication are rewarded.  It is a job with security and regular pay. The salary, the benefits, and the feel good rewards make this job worth it.

Correctional Officer Job Description

The correctional officer job description includes a variety of skills and responsibilities.   The basic description is to run and maintain order in the jail system.  It initially sounds simple, but there is much more to it than simply babysitting criminals. Correctional officers do not work in the system to simply watch inmates.  Correctional officers work in the prison systems in order to change the lives of the inmates they deal with on a regular basis. In other words, correctional officers are in the prisons to change lives. The correctional officer works in federal, county, or state facilities in order to run the facilities and help rehabilitate the inmates in them. These range from low to high security facilities and house a variety of people. The correctional officer plays a vital role in the correctional system.

The Must-Know Rules

Correctional officer’s jobs can be divided into three categories: ensuring safety, enforcing policy, fostering a community environment among the inmates and fellow corrections officers.  Ensuring safety is a top goal in correctional facilities.  Safety begins with a safe environment. Corrections officers conduct routine inspections of the facilities and the inmate population in order to check for hazards.  This includes facility or structural problems as well as checking for contraband in the inmates’ living quarters.  Most of the problems with safety will be in the inmate population as many may attempt to smuggle weapons or drugs into the facility. Additionally, officers routinely check the facilities to ensure that there are no security breaches or safety hazards.  They make sure that the structures are up to code and that there are no holes in the walls, fences, or windows.

Correctional Officer Job DescriptionEnforcing policy helps to ensure safety, but it does much more than that.  Policies are in place to keep people safe and make things run smoothly.  The policies affect everything in the jail system.  The policies include things such as inmate schedules, visitors, personal interactions, and items coming into and out of the jail.  Policy promotes efficiency, which is essential in a community of several hundred confined people. It also prevents illegal items, or even dangerous items from entering the jail. There is no other way to keep things running smoothly and safely.  Policy is required amongst the inmates and the correctional officers and it is up to the officers to make sure everything goes well.

Fostering a sense of community is the final aspect of the correctional officer’s job description. The inmates live together for extended periods of time. Because of this, the correctional officer must find ways to encourage community and peace within the inmate population. This can be as complex as using conflict resolution skills or something as simple as giving out punishments.The officers may also be involved in scheduling counseling sessions and work opportunities for the inmates as is mandated or necessary for their rehabilitation. Beyond the inmates, the correctional officers also must be able to work with each other during slow times and times of high stress.  It is very important that the officers develop a measure of trust with each other. Sometimes officers must break up fights or riots and they must be able to count on each other during stressful times such as these in order to maintain the peace and safety of the correctional facility. Additionally, correctional officers work together for long hours at a time. They often share holidays away from their families together. Being able to get along with coworkers is essential to successfully be a correctional officer.

The correctional officer’s job description is much more complex than it sounds. Training includes areas such as tactical training, conflict resolution, management, logistics, policy adherence, customer service, and many other topics.  Being a corrections officer requires a finely tuned blend of all of these skills in order to keep the facilities running well and in order to facilitate the rehabilitation of the inmates.  The officer must be able to be unbiased while commanding respect and empathizing with his or her charges in order to be successful in this line of work.  It is not always an easy job, but it is a very rewarding job that demands dedication and skill.  The correctional officer is not just an enforcer with brute strength that stands outside of a jail cell.  The correctional officer is someone who works to better society in his or her everyday life.