Federal prison guards maintain order and manage inmates inside federal institutions. They must be in excellent health, be at least 18 to 21 years old and under 37, and either be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. They also need at least a bachelor’s degree, three years of full-time field experience providing counseling or supervision to individuals, or some combination of the two. Law enforcement or military experience can also substitute for some of these qualification.
Federal prison guards use the same Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) pay tables used by all government law officers. This divides base pay into 10 grades, which generally apply to educational level and years of experience, and 10 steps, which can distinguish among performance levels within each grade. For example, a federal prison guard starts at grade GS-05, step 1, with an annual salary of $33,829 as of January 2011. He may start at GS-06 if he has 14 quarter hours of graduate study. This pays $35,672 at step 1. The highest GS-10, step 10 pay is $61,031 per year.
Because prison guard positions are found across the country, cost of living can vary by area. The Locality Pay Tables adjust the base pay relative to the cost of where a guard is stationed. For example, locality pay tables in the Los Angeles area incorporate a 27.16 percent addition to wages. The annual pay at GS-05, step 1, is $43,017; at GS-06, step 1, it is $45,361 and at GS-10, step 10, it is $77,607. In Raleigh, North Carolina, pay at GS-05, step 1, is $39,796; at GS-06, step 1, it is $41,965 and at GS-10, step 10, it is $71,797.
Benefits for federal prison guards include vacation days that start at 13 days per year and go up to 26 days after 15 years or more of work. Creditable years spent in the military are counted as part of the years. All full-time employees also earn 13 sick days a year and are granted 10 paid government holidays. Life and health insurance are available, and so is a subsidy for taking public transportation.
Federal prison guards may retire after 20 years of service at age 50 or may retire at any age after 25 years of service. The Federal Employee Retirement System governs such retirements, as it does with all federal employees. The basic pension is computed on the highest average pay earned during any three consecutive years of service. A percentage of this pay is then multiplied by the number of years of experience. Retirees are also entitled to any moneys they accumulate in the Thrift Savings Plan as well as disbursements from Social Security. These latter two benefits can follow the guard to her next job if she chooses to leave the federal government before retirement.