|98-99 Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|
Nature of the Work
* Job opportunities are expected to be plentiful due to much faster than average employment growth coupled with high turnover.
* Most jobs are in large regional jails or prisons located in rural areas.
* The work can be stressful because of concerns about personal safety.
Correctional officers are responsible for 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.
Correctional officers' duties differ with the setting in which they are performed. The majority of the approximately 3,300 jails in the United States are operated by county governments, with about three-quarters of all jails under the jurisdiction of an elected sheriff. Duty in jails differs from that in prisons in a number of important ways. For instance, the jail population changes constantly. The American jail system processes more than 22 million people a year, with about half a million inmates in jail at any given time. Approximately one million inmates are incarcerated in Federal and State prisons. The prison population by contrast is far more stable.
Many correctional officers are employed by police and sheriffs departments in county and municipal jails or precinct station houses. These officers often have no law enforcement responsibilities outside the jail. (See the statement on Police, Detectives, and Special Agents elsewhere in the Handbook.) Others are employed by large regional jails or State and Federal prisons where job duties are 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.
To make sure inmates are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor inmates' activities, including working, exercising, eating, and showering. They assign and supervise inmates' work assignments. Sometimes it is necessary for them 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 in prison settings hold security positions in towers, where they are equipped with high-powered rifles. In both jail and prison facilities with direct supervision cell blocks, officers are unarmedthey 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 interpersonal communications skills, although they may have inmates who do not obey their orders transferred to facilities with less desirable living arrangements and fewer privileges.
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 high security facilities where the most dangerous inmates are housed, 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 and only rarely leave their cells.
Depending on the offender's security classification within the institution, correctional officers may have to escort inmates to and from cells and other areas and accompany them to see authorized visitors. Officers may also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations. Officers inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. Should the situation arise, they assist the responsible law enforcement authorities by helping to investigate crimes committed within their institution or by helping search for escaped inmates.
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 shift or in an assigned area.
Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors, depending on their specific duties. Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but many 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 are injured in confrontations with inmates who may feel that they have little to lose from violent behavior.
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 paid overtime.
Correctional officers held about 320,000 jobs in 1996. 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 11,000 correctional officers worked at Federal correctional institutions, and about 5,100 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. 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 some 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 regional training academies which are available to local agencies. All States and local departments of correction provide on-the-job training at the conclusion of formal instruction. Officer trainees receive several weeks or months of training in an actual job setting under the supervision of an experienced officer. Entry requirements and on-the-job training vary widely from agency to agency.
Academy trainees generally receive instruction on institutional policies, regulations, and operations, as well as custody and security procedures, among other subjects. 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.
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 all the way up to warden. Officers sometimes transfer to related areas, such as parole officer.
Job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be favorable through the year 2006. 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. In addition, some local and a few State correctional agencies have traditionally experienced difficulty in attracting qualified applicants, largely due to relatively low salaries and the concentration of jobs in rural locations. This situation is expected to continue.
Employment of correctional officers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006 as additional officers are hired to supervise and control a growing inmate population. Increasing public concern about the spread of crime and illegal drugsresulting in more police making more arrests and getting more convictionsand the adoption of mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates will spur demand for correctional officers. 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 and staffed. Some employment opportunities also may arise in the private sector as public authorities opt to contract with private companies to provide and staff corrections facilities.
Layoffs of correctional officers are rare because security must be maintained in correctional institutions at all times.
According to a 1996 survey in Corrections Compendium, a national journal for corrections professionals, Federal and State correctional officers' annual salaries averaged about $26,100 and ranged from a low of $17,300 in South Carolina to a high of $41,700 in Rhode Island.
At the Federal level, the starting salary was about $20,200 to $22,600 a year in 1996; 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 annual average salary for correctional officers employed by the Federal Government was $33,540 in early 1997.
Correctional officers employed in the public sector 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, many 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. 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. Probation and parole officers monitor and counsel offenders and evaluate their progress in becoming productive members of society. 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 and local levels may be obtained from State departments of corrections, or nearby correctional institutions and facilities including police department and county sheriff offices.
Information on entrance requirements, training, and career opportunities for correctional officers on the Federal level may be obtained by calling the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Regional recruitment offices have toll-free telephone numbers listed in local phone directories. In addition, information on obtaining a job with the Federal Government may be obtained from the Office of Personnel Management through a telephone based system. Consult your telephone directory under U.S. Government for a local number or call (912) 757-3000 (TDD (912) 744-2299). The number is not toll free and charges may result. Information also is available from their internet site: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/
|98-99 Handbook Contents...||UMSL Govt. Docs...||UMSL Libraries...||UMSL Home...|