Requirements to Be a Corrections Officer

Corrections officers oversee and maintain order within the general populations of correctional facilities. Required skills include communication, self-defense and the ability to work effectively in a high-stress and hazardous environment. Read on to learn more about the various requirements for a corrections officer.

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Basic Requirements for a Corrections Officer

To be considered for a corrections officer position, applicants must typically be at least 18-21 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED. An applicant's criminal record must be free of felony convictions. Some institutions seek applicants with law enforcement or armed forces experience, while others require some college training. In many cases, one may be accepted in place of the other. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, have stringent requirements, including a bachelor's degree and relevant experience in supervising or counseling.

Mental and Physical Requirements

Because of the high risk of injury and the need to physically restrain inmates, corrections officers must be in excellent overall condition. Routine tests assess eyesight, hearing and reading skills. Due to the stressful nature of the job, facilities also test mental health and run background checks. Applicants are expected to demonstrate good judgment and the ability to make decisions quickly.

Training Requirements

Correctional officers receive their professional training from local, state and federal corrections departments. These departments could require new officers to complete formal training, which includes classes in communication, law and criminal rights, at a local academy. Students receive hands-on training in firearm use and safety, inmate restraint, prisoner transportation and use of force. New officers also receive on-the-job training, which can include instruction in facility policies and security procedures.

Federal corrections officers at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons usually need to complete a more intense training program than their state and local counterparts. The first year on the job consists of 200 hours of general institutional education, including 120 hours of skill-building, firearm safety, self-defense and endurance instruction, at the Glynco, GA, training center.

Certification Option

The American Correctional Association (ACA) offers voluntary certification as a Certified Corrections Officer (CCO) for those who want to demonstrate their aptitude in the field (www.aca.org). Becoming a CCO requires providing evidence of education and work experience, as well as successfully completing a qualifying examination.

The CCO credential is valid for three years, and officers can become re-certified by earning continuing education credit. Credit is given for participating in education courses, training requirements and other activities approved by the ACA.

Career Outlook for Corrections Officers

The number of corrections officer jobs was predicted to grow 5% from 2010-2020, which was slower than the average for other occupations. Budget cuts, as well as decreasing crime, were factors that affected this slower employment increase. Correctional officers earned a mean wage of $43,550 annually in May 2012.

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