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Jailer: How to Become a Jailer or Correctional Officer

Learn how to become a jailer or correctional officer. Research the job duties and education requirements and find out how to start a career in a correctional institution.

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Do I Want to Be a Jailer or Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers or jailers enforce rules and monitor the behavior of prisoners, including those awaiting trial. These officers generally need an eye for detail and the ability to react with authority in a crisis. Strong written and oral communication skills are also needed in this occupation that holds the potential for violence.

Job Requirements

The educational and training qualifications for jailers or correctional officers vary by agency, but at least a high school diploma is necessary. Some positions require completion of postsecondary courses or a degree. Optional certifications may be available. The following table contains the main requirements for correctional officers:

Common Requirements
Degree LevelSome agencies may require college courses or a degree*
Degree FieldCriminal justice, criminology, corrections or a related discipline**
Licensure and CertificationSome states require a license; voluntary certification is also available*
ExperienceUp to three years of experience may be required in order to work in federal prisons*
Key SkillsSelf discipline, critical thinking, negotiation*
Additional RequirementsPhysical strength*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Multiple school websites (August 2012).

Step 1: Complete Training

Jailers and correctional officers participate in training academies administered by government agencies or take jailer courses at community colleges. These short-term jailer or correctional officer training programs don't lead to a degree but can prepare students for entry-level positions in the field. Applicants must complete physical assessments, a background check and an interview.

In training academy programs, students learn how to supervise inmates, prepare reports, secure jails, release inmates and apply correctional law. Aspiring correctional officers also learn self-defense tactics and the safe use of firearms. In some cases, these programs prepare trainees for state certification or licensure exams.

Success Tips:

  • Stay in shape. Correctional officers have the potential to be injured in confrontations with prisoners. Individuals in this field should stay in shape and learn how to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Research the job market. Potential jailers or correctional officers should look into the educational requirements set forth by government agencies and private companies. While some agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma and train them on the job, others prefer some college courses or a degree.

Step 2: Earn a Degree

A postsecondary degree isn't always required, but certain positions may require some college education, according to the BLS. Relevant associate's programs in criminal justice, corrections or corrections administration generally involve two years of study. At some schools, these programs can be taken in conjunction with a training academy program. Common courses include parole, correctional law, prisoner supervision and psychology.

Some agencies look for correctional officers who've completed a bachelor's program. For example, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires correctional officers to have at least a bachelor's degree or 1-3 years of full-time experience. Relevant bachelor's programs in criminal justice or criminology are widely available.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

While certification isn't always required, it can help jailers stand out and may lead to career advancement. A few organizations offer professional credentials, including the American Correctional Association (ACA). In order to earn the ACA's Certified Corrections Officer designation, applicants need to have a high school diploma or GED and one year of work experience prior to taking the exam.

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