Corrections officers guard prisoners who are serving jail or prison time or awaiting trial. This can be a dangerous and stressful job, but it's essential to the criminal justice system. As of 2013, there were 432,680 people working as corrections officers in the United States.
The primary job of correctional officers is to supervise inmates. The correctional officers of a jail or prison must collectively know the location of all inmates at all times. Individual officers supervise inmate activities and ensure that they obey the rules. If an inmate violates the rules, correctional officers have to report the behavior to their superiors. They work to settle disputes between prisoners and can use sanctions and punishments to enforce discipline.
Inspections and Prisoner Transport
In addition to supervising inmates, correctional officers must perform regular inspections of the facilities that they guard. They search cells for contraband, look for security breaches and identify unsanitary conditions. Officers can search inmates for weapons, drugs and other prohibited items. When visitors enter prisons or jails, the correctional officers are responsible for searching them to ensure that they do not bring in contraband. They also inspect prisoner mail to ensure that it doesn't contain anything prohibited. When an inmate needs to be transported to and from a cell to see visitors, correctional officers must transport them. To ensure security, the officers will restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg shackles. They also will escort prisoners outside of the facility. For example, they will take inmates to court appearances, medical appointments and to other facilities.
The typical correctional officer works five, eight-hour shifts per week on a rotating basis. Because jails and prisons never close, correctional officers must work days, nights, weekends and holidays. Not surprisingly, the environment they work in can be unpleasant. Jails and prisons can be crowded and may not be climate controlled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that correctional officers have one of the highest injury and illness rates of all occupations due to their exposure to dangerous inmates.
Education and Skills
Correctional officers usually need to be at least 18 to 21 years old and have no felony convictions. New applicants for federal positions must be younger than 37. Officers must have at least a high school education; some institutions require college credits or experience in the military or law enforcement. Correctional officers will receive on-the-job training and may be sent for training at an academy. Because correctional officers interact with inmates, they must have strong communications skills, according to the BLS. The BLS also notes that they must have strong negotiation skills and good judgment to work with inmates as well as strong self-discipline in hostile situations and physical strength in case they must subdue inmates. Qualified officers can advance to the position of correctional sergeant, putting them in charge of security and directing other officers. Officers may use their experience to transfer into similar jobs such as parole officers and correctional treatment specialists.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Correctional Officers -- Summary
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Correctional Officers Do
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Work Environment
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Correctional Officer
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Correctional Officers -- Pay
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 33-3012 Correctional Officers and Jailers
- Photo Credit Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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