Correctional Officer Job Overview

Learn step-by-step everything you need to know about a career in corrections.
Get details on the hiring process, requirements, salary & Pay Scale info.

What's it Like to Be a Corrections Officer

Requirements & Qualifications

  • Must Be at Least 18 years old
  • Must be a US Citizen or Legal Resident of US
  • Must be in good mental condition
  • Bachelors degree is required for Federal Jobs
  • Never have been dishonorably discharged
  • Pass a physical exam by a licensed physician
  • Have good moral character
  • pass the criminal background check
  • Must pass the pre-employment written exam
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalent

Selection/ Hiring Process

  • Apply Online
  • Written examination
  • Physical Fitness Test
  • Background Investigation
  • Medical Examination
  • Psychological Test
  • Interivew
  • Polygraph Test
  • Eligible For Hire
  • Training

Likely Disqualification Factors

  • Felony Convictions
  • Serious Misdemeanor Convictions
  • Dishonorable Discharge from the millitary
  • Suspended Driver's License
  • Criminal Case where disposition is still pending
  • History of Drug Abuse
  • Domestic Violence Convictions
  • Criminal History of Lawlessness
  • Offensive or Discriminatory Tattoos
  • Convictions of selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs

How Much Money Does a Correctional Officer Make

Average Salary & Pay Scale For Prison Guards, Jailers & Federal COs

10th percentile Annual wage (2018)
$31,140
25th percentile Annual wage (2018)
$36,180
50th percentile Annual wage (2018)
$44,330
75th percentile Annual wage (2018)
$59,550
90th percentile Annual wage (2018)
$76,760

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Correctional Officers and Bailiffs, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm (visited March 09, 2020).

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EX-Federal Correctional Officer Share his First-Hand Experience as a CO

NOTE: This article is from an EX-Federal Correctional Officer, and OutsideTheBadge.com cannot verify the opinions and experiences of the author. However, we thought it was a great read for those who want to pursue a career in corrections.

 

The decision in becoming a correctional officer requires some serious thought.  Not everyone is built for this line of work. There are many decisions to make.

Your first question should be, Correctional officer job description?

This information is for people who have decided to make corrections a career.  I am going to spare you from some of the small decisions right now.

If you are still straddling the fence then I recommend you do some research first.  I will tell you a little about the process, but you can not let this website or any other website be the extent of your research.

Correctional officer research

You need to learn the history of this field. Books are a good resource on the basics of corrections.

If you are thinking about applying for any job; what is the first thing most people do?

They talk to someone already doing the job, right.  Corrections is no different.

It is actually more important to speak to a correctional officer than reading most books.  A book can tell you about the “ideal” correctional work environment.

However, an officer can give you information no book will tell you.

The jail/prison environment is not your typical 9-5 job.

Steps to becoming a correctional Officer

1. Integrity 
This is the back bone of the correctional field.  A C.O. (correctional officer) needs to have a high integrity level. You have to make decisions based on your ability to do the right thing.  Integrity means doing the right thing when no one else is looking, not just when you are being watched. Your co-workers will respect you more for your ability to do the right thing.  Inmates respect officers with a high integrity.

2. Communication

This is one of the most important skills you need because your communications is not only important to the staff.  You write reports, talk to correctional supervisors, co-workers, and inmates. Communication is an essential skill to have for this line of work.  There will be certain times you will have to talk to the public.  I know that sounds obvious, right.  You can get so used to speaking prison jargon that you forget other people do not know what you mean.  I will tell you more on prison jargon later.

 
3. Flexibility
 
You have to be open to change and react to that change with sound judgement.  The correctional environment is very  routine, but the same thing rarely happens twice.  It is important that task are done everyday even if that means you staying late sometimes to get them done.
 
4. Patience
 
Sometimes things require a little patience.  We all want things done in a timely fashion however, in a corrections environment patience is more than a virtue, to quote an overly used phrase.  It is important that a task gets done and that does not mean in the fastest time.
 
5. Writing skills
 
I bet you thought that college essay was your last one.  While you are not required to write essays in prison; you need to know how to formulate sentences correctly in order for your reports to be read easily.  Your reports will be read daily by a supervisor. The last thing you want is your sentences to be illegible.  Sometimes your reports are read by outside agencies.

These are important skills to possess.  You need to do an introspective review of your own personality before you should consider becoming a correctional officer.I will not overwhelm you with information because as I mentioned, whether to become a correctional officer requires serious thought.I would rather you stop here before you decide to make this your career and these skills present a problem for you later.You are not patted on the back everyday, but you need to remember the importance of your job.I will quote a well known law enforcement cliche´.

Employment outlook for correctional officers.

When you are considering any job, you want to know how much the job pays and whether you will have a job in the future.

As a whole the correctional industry is one of the most stable jobs in America.

Below is a chart taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency responsible for tracking all jobs in America.

Correctional officer salary:

Quick Facts: Correctional Officers
2010 Median Pay $39,020 per year
$18.76 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2010 493,100
Job Outlook, 2010-20 5% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 26,000

This is average pay.  The Federal system usually gives you a pay increase every year.  The pay increases have been put on hold for now. Read more about the employment outlook for officers.

This chart is based on starting pay; you are paid more money the longer you continue to work.

Correctional Officer Application

The application process for federal jobs have moved on line.  The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is an agency within the Department of Justice (DOJ).

You apply online through the United States of America Jobs ( USAJobs) website. This website is a great resource.

On this website you can look for correctional jobs across the nation and you can maintain a resume online to apply for that perfect correctional job immediately.

 

You will need to make an account.  Improve your chances of employment.

Work experience

It would be nice to have some correctional experience from a field related to security like the military, however you can still be hired coming from other fields.

Your work experience is not the only requirement to get the job.  There are many other factors considered.

How does the step pay increase work?

You will receive a pay step increase every year.  For example, if you start out as a GS-5 step 1; the next year you will get a raise to GS-6 step 2.

This process is automatic every year until GS-7 step 3.

The pay increases become competitive after that.  You will still get your step increase, however the next step increase does not occur for 3 years.

You have to be selected by the Warden to promoted to the GS-8 level.

What does GS & FWS stand for?

The abbreviation GS stands for general schedule.  It is the way the federal government classifies it’s pay system.  Majority of correctional jobs fall under this category.

It is important to keep this abbreviation in mind because it will be used for many jobs listed on the USAJobs website.  The majority of jobs will be as GS or FWS, which stands for federal wage system.

FWS jobs are in maintenance, facility, food service, etc.

How Hard is The Correctional Officer Test?

You are given laptops (when I went it was books) to study for the test.  I recommend studying the material daily.  Study with a study group 

Your classmates can be an excellent resource.  You would be amazed at how someone else sees the situation.  You may be given an opportunity to improve your score.

However, it is in your best interest to do your best the first time.

I saw people sent home with no job because they did not pass the test.

What happens if you do not pass the training?

The training instructors will do everything they can do to help you pass.  However, there are somethings out of your control.

You could get injured. You might have to leave for a personal emergency, or you might get sick.

Whatever the reason.  You will be scheduled to come back at a later date.

Will I lose my job if I do not pass?

This question depends on the situation.  If you are not working with the training facility to pass; they could revoke your employment invitation.

However, they do not want to fail anyone because it cost the BOP money to get you there.  So it would cost them even more money to send someone else.

I would not take that chance.  You want to be employed. You need to meet your obligation by passing the training tests.

The BOP does not want to spend extra money, but they have to stay true to their mission, which is to protect the public.

What is the retirement plan?

The federal retirement program is a 401K managed buy the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).  It is composed of mutual fund stocks categorized into 6 funds.

The retirement funds have been steady performers.  The fund lost a lot of value during the 2008 recession, but it has recovered all of it and most funds are profitable again.

The B.O.P. contributes 1% of your base salary into the retirement system.  I recommend you contribute as much as you can as soon as you.

The B.O.P. matches up to 5% of your contributions.

The dreaded background check

Many people are concerned about an employer looking into their background.  I say if you have nothing to hide then you will have no problem.  Background checks are important to be hired.

If you are posting personal embarrassing photos, using offensive language, or making obscene comments online, stop it now because you are hurting your chances of employment.

Anyway, when you apply for a government job, be prepared to wait.  This is the first test of your patience.

How long does it take to hear back?

It will take on average 6 months or more to be cleared.  There are some people who hear back sooner than that, but that is rare and it all depends on how soon your background check is cleared along with other issues.

I heard back in 4 months, but that was mainly due to the ease of my background verification.

My overseas travel was with the military.

Promotion potential

The promotion potential is very high in the correctional industry.  There are always people retiring. There is also a lot of movement across institutions, departments, and people being fired.

It is great for people to make it to their retirement years, however those jobs need to be filled.  That leaves room for the most qualified person to move up.

Correctional officer benefits

The U.S. government has an excellent benefits package.  They have a great retirement plan maintained through (TSP) thrift savings plan.

The first day you are hired the U.S. government begins to contribute 1% of your yearly salary automatically.

Take it from me, contribute as much as you can as soon as you can.

They also match the amount you put in the account yourself.

 

The health insurance is reliable.  Your coverage is based on the amount of insurance you carry.  I use Blue Cross Blue Shield.

I have not had a problem with BCBS.

Those are the most important benefits, but they have others.

A flexible spending account (FSA), life insurance, employee assistance program (EAP), and more.

I want you to make your own decision, come back to learn more about the correctional career. This is not a training resource.

It is a detailed description of being a C.O. and what it takes.

Requirements

Most employers require you to have experience doing the job to be considered worthy of hiring. For example, if you applied to work as a retail clerk; it would be nice to have some experience working in the retail industry.

Corrections is no different, when it comes to the experience requirements.   Experience in corrections is more important than most jobs.

The experience requirements are there to help you be more successful when handling emergencies and daily activities.

Experience can be substituted

How can I get experience as a correctional officer?

Correctional experience comes in many different forms.   A correctional officer performs the following duties.

  • Security
  • Crowd control
  • Monitoring
  • Searches
  • Communication
  • Organize
  • Planning
  • Supervise
  • Writing skills
  • Recording daily activities
  • Following orders
  • Reacting to emergencies
  • Etc.
 

As you can see there are many duties that can be substituted for the required skills.  However, do not be creative in your skills.

They will only hurt you.

Important takeaways:

Getting the job is not your only goal.

Applying for a correctional officer is not the time to be creative.

An embellished resume could get someone hurt someone, namely you.

Tips on How to Get Hired as a Prison Guard

What if you knew one way how to increase your employment chances? Also, what if you knew the one thing that many job applicants fail to do.

Be prepared to shine

Well what I am going to tell you is not rocket science, but even I overlooked this strategy.

The economy has done a number on job searches. Even though there seems like no one is getting a job right now.

I have news for you, some people are. What are they doing that everyone else is not doing?

They are using a strategy to get hired. They are staying disciplined in their efforts.

Some people are using every tool in their tool pouch to get the job done.

Michael, what are you talking about? I have filled out so many applications my hands are tired.

I feel your pain, however let me ask you this, Do you have a USAJobs profile?

Man, I need a job, not another profile.

Exactly, USAjobs is more than a website to leave a profile.

Ask your fellow job searches do they have a USAJobs profile.

I am willing to bet you the amount of people with one is really low.

Sure many people have visited the site, but are they leaving resumes?

Who is the largest employer

USAJobs is a database of all government jobs.

Stay with me, I am going to tell you why you need a profile on this website.

Ask yourself, who is the largest employer in America. Not Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in America, but they are dwarfed by the number of employees.

At last count Wal-Mart employed 2.2 million employees Worldwide.

That is right, the U.S. government.

According to a 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Stats report, there were 21, 292,000 employees working for the government.

Now back to the reason why you need a USAJobs profile.

Lets us suppose you are ready to apply for a government job, but wait a minute you need to apply using the USAJobs website.

You should always be ready to apply for a government job; you could apply immediately if you had a resume on the site.

Most U.S. jobs, like correctional officers, have a time frame to apply.

If you miss the time frame; you will have to wait until the next open period.

But, I do not know how to use the website.

No problem, I am going to let an Office of Personnel staff member explain how to navigate the site.

Now you see how important a profile is on the site. There is no way of getting around creating a profile.

I visited the site many times however, I did not create a profile until years later.

There are 1,000 of jobs on the site at any given time.

Important takeaways:

The most important part is to make sure you read all the requirements to apply.

You may be able to substitute experiences for the job.

Good luck with your search and I hope you make this site part of your job search arsenal.

Correctional officer training: fitness requirements.

Travel:

You will be flying into Jacksonville, FL.  Once you arrive you and your fellow correctional officers will be transported to the base via bus.

It is approximately a 2 hour drive.  So get comfortable and get to know your fellow officers.

Orientation:

The officer training school for all federal agencies is held in Glynco, GA.  The center is called Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). When you first arrive at the center everyone receives a federal id so they can move freely on and off the base.

You will learn the proper correctional officer duties.

Training duration:

Training is 3 weeks.  Training takes place Monday-Friday.  You are free to leave the base however, I advise you to wait until the weekend.  If you are lucky a holiday will fall in your training period.

Housing: 

Some students will stay on base for housing and the rest will stay in local hotels.  The ones who stay off base receive transportation back and forth from the base.

Meals:

There is a cafeteria on base.  The meals are free.  You can eat as much as you want.  But keep the fitness test in mind.

 

Sightseeing:

Historic Savannah is within driving distance.  Beautiful St. Simons island has beaches and shopping.

Recommendations:

The training instructors recommend you spend 20 minutes/day studying your coursework  I did exactly that with some friends and I passed all test with flying colors.

However, you need to get prepared for the physical test.  I looked at the video and I forgot about all the challenges.  I could not do that again. 

Correctional Officer Responsibilities

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing inmates in local, state, and federal jails and prisons. They maintain order within these facilities by enforcing the rules and regulations of the institution.

Correctional officers must monitor the activities of the incarcerated in order to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes. Correctional officers may be responsible for assisting in the investigation of any crimes that are committed within the facility.

Correctional officers can become members of specialty units, such as tactical response teams, canine, gang units, or fugitive task forces after specific training.

Median Annual Salary

$35,760

Education Requirements

 

A high school diploma or graduation equivalency degree is required for all positions. Specific states may require additional college credit to qualify as an applicant; however, law enforcement or military experience can often be substituted for this requirement.

Important Note: The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires most applicants to possess a bachelor’s degree.

Job Outlook & Employment

Overall opportunities at correctional institutions will be excellent for individuals who meet the standards of physical fitness and possess a degree or college credits. Expected population growth and rising rates of incarceration will continue to increase the demand for correctional officers.

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