What is a Correctional Officer?

Law enforcement is a popular career choice today and many people are thinking about becoming a correctional officer. Television dramas have given us unrealistic pictures of these professionals, though, and some people don’t classify these men and women as law enforcement because they cannot arrest people and they often are not armed. So, what is a corrections officer, what does he do and how did he become one?

Simple Definition

A correctional officer  is a person responsible for the supervision, safety and security of prisoners in a prison, jail or similar form of secure custody. These professionals are carefully screened and trained and expected to protect society, the facility and the prisoners themselves.

Duties of a Corrections Officer

The men and women in this career supervise prisoners in their cells, in the prison yard, in transportation, in work projects and at other times. According to Correctional Officer EDU, lists their duties as “safety facilitators” under three headings: personal safety, team safety and inmate safety. That means officers must foremost attend to their own safety, because they work in a population of lawbreakers, some of which are dangerous. In many facilities the officers are not permitted to carry firearms or even to wear ballistic-proof vests, because of the concern that they may fall into the prisoners’ hands. The officers, or guards, maintain order with only non-lethal means such as a baton. At times, officers assigned to the exercise yard must be outside in inclement weather even if no prisoners are there. Other officers man watchtowers or sit at the entrance desk checking visitors’ identification and ensuring no weapons or contraband are brought into the facility. Prisons and jails establish and maintain protocols for situations that may arise and the officers must know the protocols and be able to implement them. Most prisons have on-site health clinics so guards only have to transport prisoners within the facility. Sometimes, though, a prisoner must be taken to a hospital or to a location for work. Correctional officers are responsible to transport their charges safely. Team safety refers to the duty of a guard to protect his co-workers. The third designation of safety is the safety of the prisoner. Officers must be aware of their surroundings and understand things like gang signs and behavior to predict “situations“ that may arise.

Becoming a Corrections Officer

Corrections officers must have a minimum of a high school education. People who want to become officers first must apply, generally through an online form. An assessment called the CSI or correctional officers’ inventory is performed through the applications and certain applicants are selected for interviews. Those who have successful interviews undergo a security background check, a medical exam and a drug check before being hired. A provisional hiree then attends the corrections officer academy for anywhere between four weeks and a few months. Courses at the academy are both classroom and experiential. The standard training includes:

  • Use of restraints like handcuffs
  • Weapons, including firearm training
  • Self-defense
  • First aid and CPR
  • Report writing
  • Court testimony
  • Corrections law
  • Gang intelligence

Related Resource: Crime Lab Analyst

The median salary for this profession is only marginally affected by experience and length of employment. That is because most officers don’t work for twenty years at the job. The median pay for a correctional officer is $16.42 per hour plus benefits as provided by the employer. There is a debate about whether a correctional officer can be classified as law enforcement, but there is no debate about his value to society.