|Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|
Correctional officers are charged with overseeing individuals who have been arrested, are awaiting trial or other hearing, or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or penitentiary. They maintain security and observe inmate conduct and behavior to prevent disturbances and escapes. Many correctional officers work in small county and municipal jails or precinct station houses as deputy sheriffs or police officers with wide ranging responsibilities. (See the statement on police, detectives, and special agents elsewhere in the Handbook.) Others are assigned to large State and Federal prisons where job duties are more specialized. A relatively small number supervise aliens being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service before being released or deported. Regardless of the setting, correctional officers maintain order within the institution, enforce rules and regulations, and may supplement whatever counseling inmates receive from psychologists, social workers, or other mental health professionals. To make sure inmates are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor inmates' activities, including working, exercising, eating, and bathing. They assign and supervise inmates' work assignments. Sometimes it is necessary to search inmates and their living quarters for weapons or drugs, to settle disputes between inmates, and to enforce discipline. Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any inmate who violates the rules. A few officers hold staff security positions in towers, where they are equipped with high-powered rifles. Other, unarmed officers are responsible for direct supervision of inmates. They are locked in a cell-block alone, or with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside there. The officers enforce regulations primarily through their communications skills and moral authority.
Other correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities. They may, for example, check cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, weapons, drugs, fire hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely inspect locks, window bars, grille doors, and gates for signs of tampering.
Correctional officers report orally and in writing on inmate conduct and on the quality and quantity of work done by inmates. Officers also report disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They usually keep a daily record of their activities. In the most modern facilities, correctional officers can monitor the activities of prisoners from a centralized control center with the aid of 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.
Depending on the offender's classification within the institution, correctional officers may escort inmates to and from cells and other areas and admit and accompany authorized visitors to see inmates. Officers may also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations. They inspect mail and visitors for contraband (prohibited items). Should the situation arise, they assist law enforcement authorities by investigating crimes committed within their institution and by helping search for escaped inmates.
Correctional officers may arrange a change in a daily schedule so that an inmate can visit the library, help inmates get news of their families, or help inmates in other ways. In a few institutions, officers receive specialized training, have a more formal counseling role, and may lead or participate in group counseling sessions.
Correctional sergeants directly supervise correctional officers. They usually are responsible for maintaining security and directing the activities of a group of inmates during an assigned watch or in an assigned area.
Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors, depending on their specific duties. Some indoor areas of correctional institutions are well lighted, heated, and ventilated, but others are overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Outdoors, weather conditions may be disagreeable, for example when standing watch on a guard tower in cold weather. Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and hazardous; correctional officers occasionally have been injured or killed by inmates.
Correctional officers usually work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week, on rotating shifts. Prison security must be provided around the clock, which often means that junior officers work weekends, holidays, and nights. In addition, officers may be required to work overtime.
Correctional officers held about 310,000 jobs in 1994. Six of every 10 worked at State correctional institutions such as prisons, prison camps, and reformatories. Most of the remainder worked at city and county jails or other institutions run by local governments. About 9,000 correctional officers worked at Federal correctional institutions, and about 4,000 worked in privately owned and managed prisons.
Most correctional officers work in relatively large institutions located in rural areas, although a significant number work in jails and other smaller facilities located in law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Most institutions require that correctional officers be at least 18 or 21 years of age, have a high school education or its equivalent, have no felony convictions, and be a United States citizen. In addition, correctional institutions increasingly seek correctional officers with postsecondary education, particularly in psychology, criminal justice, police science, criminology, and related fields.
Correctional officers must be in good health. The Federal System and many States require candidates to meet formal standards of physical fitness, eyesight, and hearing. Strength, good judgment, and the ability to think and act quickly are indispensable. Other common requirements include a driver's license, and work experience that demonstrates reliability. The Federal System and some States screen applicants for drug abuse and require candidates to pass a written or oral examination, along with a background check.
Federal, State, and local departments of corrections provide training for correctional officers based on guidelines established by the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, and other professional organizations. Some States have special training academies. All States and local departments of correction provide informal on-the-job training at the conclusion of formal instruction. On-the-job trainees receive several weeks or months of training in an actual job setting under an experienced officer.
Academy trainees generally receive instruction on institutional policies, regulations, and operations; constitutional law and cultural awareness; crisis intervention, inmate behavior, and contraband control; custody and security procedures; fire and safety; inmate rules and legal rights; administrative responsibilities; written and oral communication, including preparation of reports; self-defense, including the use of firearms and physical force; first aid including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); and physical fitness training. New Federal correctional officers must undergo 200 hours of formal training within the first year of employment. They must complete 120 hours of specialized correctional instruction at the Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center at Glynco, Georgia, within the first 60 days after appointment. Experienced officers receive inservice training to keep abreast of new ideas and procedures.
Entry requirements and on-the-job training vary widely from agency to agency. For instance, correctional officers in North Dakota need 2 years of college with emphasis on criminal justice or behavioral science, or 3 years as a correctional, military police, or licensed peace officer. The department then provides 80 hours of training at the start, and follows up with 40 hours of training annually. On the other hand, Connecticut requires only that candidates be 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED Certificate, and pass a medical/physical examination, including drug screening. It then provides 520 hours of initial training, and follows up with 40 hours annually.
Correctional officers have the opportunity to join prison tactical response teams, which are trained to respond to riots, hostage situations, forced cell moves, and other potentially dangerous confrontations. Team members often receive monthly training and practice with weapons, chemical agents, forced entry methods, and other tactics.
With education, experience, and training, qualified officers may advance to correctional sergeant or other supervisory or administrative positions. Many correctional institutions require experience as a correctional officer for other corrections positions. Ambitious correctional officers can be promoted up to assistant warden. Officers sometimes transfer to related areas, such as probation and parole officer.
Job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be plentiful through the year 2005. The need to replace correctional officers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force, coupled with rising employment demand, will generate many thousands of job openings each year. Some local and a few State correctional agencies have traditionally experienced difficulty in attracting qualified applicants, largely due to relatively low salaries and unattractive rural locations. This situation is expected to continue, ensuring highly favorable job prospects.
Employment of correctional officers is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as additional officers are hired to supervise and control a growing inmate population. Expansion and new construction of correctional facilities also are expected to create many new jobs for correctional officers, although State and local government budgetary constraints could affect the rate at which new facilities are built. Increasing public concern about the spread of crime and illegal drugs-resulting in more convictions-and the adoption of mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates also will spur demand for correctional officers.
Layoffs of correctional officers are rare because security must be maintained in correctional institutions at all times.
According to a 1994 survey in Corrections Compendium, a national journal for corrections professionals, starting salaries of State correctional officers averaged about $19,100 a year, ranging from $13,700 in Kentucky to $29,700 in New Jersey. Professional correctional officers' salaries, overall, averaged about $22,900 and ranged from $17,000 in Wyoming to $34,100 in New York.
At the Federal level, the starting salary was about $18,700 to $20,800 a year in 1995; supervisory correctional officers started at about $28,300 a year. Starting salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where prevailing local pay levels were higher. The 1994 average salary for all Federal nonsupervisory correctional officers was about $30,650; for supervisors, about $55,800.
Correctional officers usually are provided uniforms or a clothing allowance to purchase their own uniforms. Most are provided or can participate in hospitalization or major medical insurance plans; many officers can get disability and life insurance at group rates. They also receive vacation and sick leave and pension benefits. Officers employed by the Federal Government and most State governments are covered by civil service systems or merit boards. Their retirement coverage entitles them to retire at age 50 after 20 years of service or at any age with 25 years of service. In the Federal system and some States, correctional officers are represented by labor unions.
A number of related careers are open to high school graduates who are interested in protective services and the field of security. Bailiffs supervise offenders and maintain order in local and State courtrooms during legal proceedings. Bodyguards escort people and protect them from injury or invasion of privacy. House or store detectives patrol business establishments to protect against theft and vandalism and to enforce standards of good behavior. Security guards protect government, commercial, and industrial property against theft, vandalism, illegal entry, and fire. Police officers and deputy sheriffs maintain law and order, prevent crime, and arrest offenders.
Other corrections careers are open to persons interested in working with offenders. Probation and parole officers monitor and counsel offenders, process their release from correctional institutions, and evaluate their progress in becoming productive members of society. Recreation leaders organize and instruct offenders in sports, games, arts, and crafts. Some of these related occupations are discussed elsewhere in the Handbook.
Information about entrance requirements, training, and career opportunities for correctional officers on the State level may be obtained from State civil service commissions, State departments of corrections, or nearby correctional institutions and facilities.
Additional information on careers in corrections on the local level is available from:
The American Jail Association, 2053 Day Road, Hagerstown, MD 21740-9795.
Information on entrance requirements, training, and career opportunities for correctional officers on the Federal level may be obtained from:
Federal Bureau of Prisons, National Recruitment Office, 320 First St. NW., Room 460, Washington, DC 20534.
International Association of Correctional Officers 1333 S. Wabash-Box 53, Chicago, IL 60605.
|Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|