How to Become a Corrections Officer: Step-by-Step Guide

Research the requirements to become a corrections officer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in corrections.

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Do I Want to Be a Corrections Officer?

Corrections officers, also known as detention officers, are responsible for supervising prisoners, enforcing rules, and maintaining security in local, state, and federal correctional facilities. Some facilities may be outdated and uncomfortable, and corrections officers must stand for long periods of time. Working with incarcerated individuals may be difficult and stressful, but corrections officers have an opportunity to bring a positive influence into prisoners' lives.

Job Requirements

Requirements to become a corrections officer vary by locale and type of facility; in many cases, applicants need to be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma and a clean criminal record. Postsecondary education isn't always required, but it's often preferred by employers. Academic programs in criminal justice, law enforcement, or related fields are widely available at various degree levels. After being hired, corrections officers usually complete a training academy, followed by a period of on-the-job training. The following table contains the main requirements for corrections officers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma required; some employers prefer additional education*
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement or a related field****
Certification Professional certification is optional**
Experience Previous law enforcement or military experience is desirable***
Key Skills Good judgment, physical strength, negotiation skills*
Computer Skills Computer-based inmate-tracking systems****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Correctional Association, ***Discover Corrections, ****iSeek.

Step 1: Complete a Postsecondary Program

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for corrections officers. However, depending on the correctional institution to which a candidate applies, some college coursework may be recommended or required. Aspiring corrections officers may consider an associate's or bachelor's degree in law enforcement, police studies, criminal justice, or a related field. Course topics generally include constitutional law, peacekeeping, and criminal investigations. In some cases, postsecondary education requirements can be waived if a job candidate has enough law enforcement or military experience.

Step 2: Get a Job in Corrections

Corrections officers usually find work in federal, state, or local institutions. These professionals are required to be U.S. citizens and must pass a background check. Potential employers may review an applicant's criminal history and look for felony convictions. Candidates for corrections work may need a verifiable work history and must pass a drug test as well. Some institutions also check a candidate's credit history.

Because the work of corrections officers involves many security-related situations, including potentially violent ones, employers may favor applicants with law enforcement or military experience. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires at least three years of full-time work experience in a related field for those who don't hold bachelor's degrees. Physical aptitude is another common job requirement, and newly hired officers at federal prisons must be under 37 years old.

Step 3: Complete On-the-Job Training

Newly hired corrections officers are often required to complete a training academy followed by facility-specific on-the-job training. Officers learn about ethics, safety precautions, and crisis management; they may also learn self-defense techniques and how to use firearms. Physical fitness training is often included as well.

Step 4: Fulfill In-Service Training Requirements

To stay abreast of new developments or procedures, Corrections officers are often required to complete in-service training. Depending on the agency, qualifying coursework may be available through local colleges, professional organizations, or officer training academies.

Success Tip:

  • Get certified. A corrections officer can become a Certified Corrections Officer (CCO) through the American Correctional Association. Requirements for the CCO credential include holding a high school diploma or equivalent, completing one year of experience as a corrections officer, and passing an exam. Although not required for employment at most facilities, certification can give a corrections officer an advantage in terms of getting a new job or obtaining a promotion.
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