- The work can be stressful and hazardous.
- Most correctional officers are employed in State and
- Job opportunities are expected to be excellent.
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. (For more information
on related occupations, see the statements on police and detectives and on
probation officers and correctional treatment specialist.
Police and sheriffs departments in county and
municipal jails or precinct station houses employ many correctional officers,
also known as detention officers. Most of the approximately 3,400 jails
in the United States are operated by county governments, with about
three-quarters of all jails under the jurisdiction of an elected sheriff.
Individuals in the jail population change constantly as some are released, some
are convicted and transferred to prison, and new offenders are arrested and
enter the system. Correctional officers in local jails admit and process about
12 million people a year, with about 700,000 offenders in jail at any given
time. When individuals are first arrested, the jail staff may not know their
true identity or criminal record, and violent detainees may be placed in the
general population. This is the most dangerous phase of the incarceration
process for correctional officers.
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. Although both jails and prisons can be
dangerous places to work, prison populations are more stable than jail
populations, and correctional officers in prisons know the security and
custodial requirements of the prisoners with whom they are dealing.
Regardless of the setting, correctional officers
maintain order within the institution and enforce rules and regulations. To help
ensure that inmates are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor
the activities and supervise the work assignments of inmates. Sometimes,
officers must search inmates and their living quarters for contraband like
weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline.
Correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and
other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire
hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely
inspect locks, window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering.
Finally, officers inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items.
Correctional officers report orally and in writing on
inmate conduct and on the quality and quantity of work done by inmates. Officers
also report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any
unusual occurrences. They usually keep a daily log or record of their
activities. Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any
inmate who violates the rules. Should the situation arise, they help the
responsible law enforcement authorities investigate crimes committed within
their institution or search for escaped inmates.
In jail and prison facilities with direct supervision
cellblocks, officers work unarmed. They are equipped with communications devices
so that they can summon help if necessary. These officers often work in a
cellblock alone, or with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside
there. The officers enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal
communications skills and through the use of progressive sanctions, such as the
removal of some privileges.
In the highest security facilities, where the most
dangerous inmates are housed, correctional officers often monitor the activities
of prisoners from a centralized control center with closed-circuit television
cameras and a computer tracking system. In such an environment, the inmates may
not see anyone but officers for days or weeks at a time and may leave their
cells only for showers, solitary exercise time, or visitors. Depending on the
offenders security classification within the institution, correctional officers
may have to restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to safely escort them to
and from cells and other areas and to see authorized visitors. Officers also
escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and
other destinations outside the institution.
Bailiffs, also known as marshals or court
officers, are law enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in
courtrooms. Their duties, which vary by location, include enforcing courtroom
rules, assisting judges, guarding juries from outside contact, delivering court
documents, and providing general security for courthouses.
Working in a correctional institution can be stressful
and hazardous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations
with inmates. Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some
correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and
ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Correctional
officers usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, on rotating shifts. Because
prison and jail security must be provided around the clock, officers work all
hours of the day and night, weekends, and holidays. In addition, officers may be
required to work paid overtime.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most 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. Promotion prospects may be
enhanced by obtaining a postsecondary education.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level
correctional officers to have at least a bachelors 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. Some States have regional training academies that are available to
local agencies. At the conclusion of formal instruction, all State and local
correctional agencies provide on-the-job training, including training on legal
restrictions and interpersonal relations. Many systems require firearms
proficiency and self-defense skills. Officer trainees typically receive several
weeks or months of training in an actual job setting under the supervision of an
experienced officer. However, specific entry requirements and on-the-job
training vary widely from agency to agency.
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. Experienced officers receive annual in-service
training to keep abreast of new developments and procedures.
Some correctional officers are members of prison
tactical response teams, which are trained to respond to disturbances, riots,
hostage situations, forced cell moves, and other potentially dangerous
confrontations. Team members practice disarming prisoners wielding weapons,
protecting themselves and inmates against the effects of chemical agents, and
With education, experience, and training, qualified
officers may advance to the position of correctional sergeant. Correctional
sergeants supervise correctional officers and usually are responsible for
maintaining security and directing the activities of other officers during an
assigned shift or in an assigned area. Ambitious and qualified correctional
officers can be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions all the way
up to warden. Officers sometimes transfer to related jobs, such as probation
officers, parole officers, and correctional treatment specialists.
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.
Most of the remaining jobs were in city and county
jails or in other institutions run by local governments. Some 300 of these
jails, all of them in urban areas, are large: they house over 1,000 inmates.
Most correctional officers who work in jails, however, work in institutions
located in rural areas with smaller inmate populations.
Job opportunities for correctional officers are
expected to be excellent. The need to replace correctional officers who transfer
to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force, coupled with rising
employment demand, will generate thousands of job openings each year. In the
past, some local and State corrections agencies have experienced difficulty in
attracting and keeping qualified applicants, largely because of low salaries,
shift work, and the concentration of jobs in rural locations. This situation is
expected to continue.
Employment of correctional officers is expected to grow
more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Increasing demand
for correctional officers will stem from mandatory sentencing guidelines calling
for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates, and from expansion and new
construction of corrections facilities. However, mandatory sentencing guidelines
are being reconsidered in many States because of a combination of budgetary
constraints, court decisions, and doubts about their effectiveness. Instead,
there may be more emphasis on reducing sentences or putting offenders on
probation or in rehabilitation programs in many States. As a result, the prison
population, and employment of correctional officers, will probably grow at a
slower rate than in the past. Some employment opportunities also will arise in
the private sector, as public authorities contract with private companies to
provide and staff corrections facilities.
Layoffs of correctional officers are rare because of
increasing offender populations. While officers are allowed to join bargaining
units, they are not allowed to strike.
Median annual earnings of correctional officers and
jailers were $33,600 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,560
and $44,200. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,630, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $54,820. Median annual earnings in the public sector
were $44,700 in the Federal Government, $33,750 in State government, and $33,080
in local government. In the facilities support services industry, where the
relatively small number of officers employed by privately operated prisons is
classified, median annual earnings were $21,490. According to the Federal Bureau
of Prisons, the starting salary for Federal correctional officers was about
$26,747 a year in 2005. Starting Federal salaries were slightly higher in areas
where prevailing local pay levels were higher.
Median annual earnings of first-line
supervisors/managers of correctional officers were $44,720 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $33,070 and $60,550. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $27,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,990.
Median annual earnings were $41,080 in State government and $49,470 in local
Median annual earnings of bailiffs were $33,870 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,710 and $44,240. The lowest 10
percent earned less than $17,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$54,770. Median annual earnings were $30,410 in local government.
In addition to typical benefits, correctional officers
employed in the public sector usually are provided with uniforms or a clothing
allowance to purchase their own uniforms. Civil service systems or merit boards
cover officers employed by the Federal Government and most State governments.
Their retirement coverage entitles correctional officers to retire at age 50
after 20 years of service or at any age with 25 years of service.
A number of options are available to those interested
in careers in protective services and security. Security guards and gaming
surveillance officers protect people and property against theft, vandalism,
illegal entry, and fire. Police and detectives maintain law and order, prevent
crime, and arrest offenders. Probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists monitor and counsel offenders and evaluate their progress in
becoming productive members of society.
Sources of Additional Information
Further information about correctional officers is
- American Correctional Association, 4380 Forbes
Boulevard, Lanham, MD 20706. Internet:
- American Jail Association, 1135 Professional Ct.,
Hagerstown, MD 21740.
Information on entrance requirements, training, and
career opportunities for correctional officers at the Federal level may be
obtained from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Internet:
Information on obtaining a position as a correctional
officer with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel
Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Governments official employment
information system. This resource for locating and applying for job
opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at
or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or
TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,
Correctional Officers, on the Internet at
(visited May 12, 2006).