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How To Become A Correctional Officer

The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor's degree; or 3 years of full-time experience; or a combination of these two requirements. Earn your law enforcement degree online.

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or penitentiary. Correctional officers maintain security and inmate accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes. Officers have no law enforcement responsibilities outside the institution where they work.

Most correctional officers are employed in State and Federal prisons, watching over the approximately 1.4 million offenders who are incarcerated there at any given time. Other correctional officers oversee individuals being held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service pending release or deportation, or work for correctional institutions that are run by private for-profit organizations.

Education Requirements

A majority of institutions require correctional officers to be at least 18 to 21 years of age and a U.S. citizen; have a high school education or its equivalent; demonstrate job stability, usually by accumulating 2 years of work experience; and have no felony convictions. Obtaining a criminal justice or law enforcement degree may enhance promotion prospects. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor's degree; or 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals; or a combination of these two requirements.

Correctional officers must be in good health. Candidates for employment are generally required to meet formal standards of physical fitness, eyesight, and hearing. In addition, many jurisdictions use standard tests to determine applicant suitability to work in a correctional environment. Good judgment and the ability to think and act quickly are indispensable. Applicants are typically screened for drug abuse, subject to background checks, and required to pass a written examination.

Federal, State, and some local departments of corrections provide training for correctional officers based on guidelines established by the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association. Academy trainees generally receive instruction in a number of subjects, including institutional policies, regulations, and operations, as well as custody and security procedures. New Federal correctional officers must undergo 200 hours of formal training within the first year of employment. They also must complete 120 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center at Glynco, GA, within 60 days of their appointment.

Bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers held about 484,000 jobs in 2004. About 3 of every 5 jobs were in State correctional institutions such as prisons, prison camps, and youth correctional facilities. About 16,000 jobs for correctional officers were in Federal correctional institutions, and about 15,000 jobs were in privately owned and managed prisons.

Read More: Correctional Officer Salaries and Job Opportunities >>>

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