Becoming a correctional officer is a highly rewarding career path that allows you to achieve many of your goals while providing a worthwhile service to society. One of the best things about becoming a correctional officer is that it's a high-quality job that you can do without a degree or formal education. This makes it a valuable option for those looking to start their career who don't have a strong educational background.
Becoming a correctional officer could lead to a number of further opportunities and good pay along with flexible hours and a highly rewarding job that is suitable for those looking to get into law enforcement or the security industry.
General Work Duties For Correctional Officeres
The main role of a correctional officer is to enforce rules and keep order in prisons and other correctional institutions. This can either be while working with prisoners who have already been sentenced or those awaiting trial.
As a correctional officer, you'll be expected to maintain order and security while enforcing rules and regulations of the prison (or other correctional institution). In reality, this will involve situations where you'll need to settle disturbances, sort out disputes between inmates and prevent escape situations. To help you in your role, you'll be given the authority to administer sanctions and punishments against inmates.
Along with making sure all inmates obey rules and regulations, correctional officers will be required to oversee all other daily activities. For example, you might need to make sure inmates are in the right place at the right time. Some duties could include overseeing entertainment allowances and sports activities. You'll also be required to escort inmates to different locations such as court or a medical facility.
Correctional officers are also normally responsible for searching inmates. You'll be responsible for random checks to their living areas for items such as drugs or weapons. You'll also need to make sure all visitors to the site are searched so that new items aren't smuggled in to the prison.
Along with searching prison inmates and their living quarters, you'll also be required to make sure that other public areas are up to standards at all times.
Correctional officers are required to report any incident or inmate who has broken any rules of the institution, no matter how small. You'll be required to make notes and file daily reports of incidents or other procedural aspects of prison management.
You'll also aid in the counselling and rehabilitation of inmates.
Salary Expectations For Correctional Officers
Becoming a correctional officer can be a rewarding career move with competitive salary expectations, especially for a job that doesn't require a degree or a lot of professional training. As with many other jobs – salaries can vary a fair amount depending on your location and experience.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Satistics, the average gross salary for a correctional officer was $43,550 in 2011. This is from a total of 434,870 correctional officers working in the country (source). According to an online job database, the average salary for a correction officer is around $40,000 a year.
As with most jobs, you can expect to earn more when you become more experienced. There is also quite a large variation between different locations when it comes to salary expectations. The average annual mean wage for a correctional officer in California is almost $67,000 a year – which is the highest in the country. In contrast to this, the lowest state average on the mainland is Mississippi at $26,800 (there is a slightly lower average wage in Puerto Rico).
By 2020, it's expected that there will be another 26,000 correctional officer jobs opening up – so it could be considered a growth industry and might be a good career move for you.
After more experience in your role, your earning expectations should rise considerably. A correctional officer with supervisory responsibilities earns a yearly average of around $62,770.
While you don't need a degree to become a correctional officer – many roles will require on the job training to get you fully up to speed. One of the main benefits of this is that it's often provided on the job once you've already started your role – so you can add extra qualifications and experience to your resume while getting paid. New correctional officers will do around 200 hours of training during their first year on the job.
As prisons and other institutions need staffing around the clock – you will be required to work shifts other than a regular 9-5 job. This is a benefit for those who don't like working regular hours or for families trying to stagger different work hours for childcare etc. Most roles work on an 8-hour shift rotation, five days a week – although many institutions work different patterns. With this unconventional schedule, you could work a 24 or 48 hour shift, then get 2-3 days off straight. It takes you away from home for long periods of time, but it means you get longer stretches of free time to go on trips or complete projects.
Most correctional officer jobs come with a competitive number of additional work benefits including personal and sick leave with retirement plans. You should also expect to get health and dental insurance while employed as a correctional officer. As with many other similar roles, you'll also get good opportunities for career progression and the chance to move up the career ladder to more rewarding positions with increased responsibilities.
How To Become A Correctional Officer
One of the main positives to becoming a correctional officer is that it's a job you can be successful in without a degree or expensive education. In fact, only 11% of national correctional officers have completed further education (source).
You can become a correctional officer with only a high school diploma or GED. There are some areas of career progression where a bachelor's degree might be advantageous. For example, federal corrections jobs will normally require a degree or 3 years education in a similar role – so it's still something you can get into without one. You can find out more about your specific state requirements from correctionalofficeredu.org
You'll also need to be at least 18 or 21 in some locations. It goes without saying that you'll need to have no felony convictions to get a job in this industry.
To get started in the industry you should apply for an open position. From this point, you'll normally be required to pass a written exam and background investigation. After this, you'll be required to submit a drug test and be interviewed. If you pass all these steps, you should be well on your way to getting hired as a correctional officer.
There aren't really any online courses that will help you progress or get your first job like there are in many other industries. You will normally be provided with some initial on the job training and will not be required to pay for certification.
Future Career Opportunities
The industry of correction and prisons is considered to be a growth area with many more jobs expected to open up in the future. This could make it a good career path for you, especially if you haven't got a degree.
Initial promotion opportunities could shift supervisors, lieutenants and captains. You could also move into federal correction or other areas of the correction industry. Federal roles require more experience or a degree, but will offer more responsibility and a higher starting salary.
Becoming a correctional officer is also a good move if you're looking to get into other related fields at a later date, like becoming a police officer or getting employed in private security.
Similar Jobs Worth Looking At
Those looking to get into corrections might consider other similar roles depending on their experience and salary expectations. Becoming a police officer requires many similar quality and has similar responsibilities, but also has higher standards for acceptance and can often require at least a bachelor's degree. While the police force is harder to get into, it also has a higher average salary. However, this must be weighed up with the increased responsibility and danger associated with the role.
Other similar jobs that you could get into instead of corrections include becoming a probation officer, surveillance officer or firefighter.
In conclusion, the correction industry is a growth area that offer a number of benefits for those looking to work in the industry. As well as reasonably good career progression and on the job training that provides you with a number of transferable skills, you should also expect to get full health and dental insurance.
One of the main benefits of becoming a correctional officer is that it's something you can do without a degree or strong educational background. After a few years in the job, your options for moving up and earning more will increase.
If you're still at the stage of deciding whether to go to university or not – you might be pleased to know that there are worthwhile employment opportunities out there that don't require an expensive education.
University education is expensive and many graduates find themselves with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start working. As a corrections officer, you'll be able to start earning with a clean slate rather than paying off interest on loans. Not only that, you'll also be able to start earning straight out of high-school, putting you ahead of those who spend 4 years at university racking up debt.
Many people who skipped university find their career path more rewarding and end up in a good position by their mid-20s – often while those who went to university are still looking for a job or have only just got started. Even if you're coming to corrections a bit later in life, it's something that's easy to get into and doesn't take long to re-train for.