How to Become a

Correctional Officer

The complete career guide to be a Correctional Officer: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $45,320
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 3.7%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Dependable Daily Workload
    Career Attribute

Correctional officers work in prisons and help maintain a calm and safe environment for prisoners and other guards. They conduct inspections of anyone coming into the prison to make sure no contraband enters the prison, and they also inspect prisoner rooms to look for evidence of weapons or drugs.

Recommended Schools

What is a Correctional Officer?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in correctional officer roles:

  • Oversee the actions and activities of all prisoners during shifts
  • Ensure all prisoners are accounted for at all times and in expected locations
  • Inspect prisoners and their guests for contraband like drugs or weapons
  • Inspect prison cells for contraband and/or signs of an escape attempt
  • Intervene in, prevent, and stop violent acts to ensure the safety of all prisoners

A Day in the Life

Correctional officers work in prisons and are responsible for maintaining order. Because prisoners are naturally disgruntled about their situation, correctional officers must be diligent to fulfill their responsibilities. They must conduct frequent and ongoing inspections to make sure no contraband—drugs or weapons—are brought into or held in the prison. This requires searching visitors, incoming mail, and prisoner cells to look for signs of contraband that could create dangerous situations.

Correctional officers also oversee all prisoner activities. They oversee daily activities like mealtimes, work shifts, and free time, allowing prisoners to come out of their cells. When prisoners are in large groups for these activities, correctional officers must observe prisoners for signs that an incident is getting ready to occur. They must be prepared to break up fights or riots using non-lethal weapons like stun guns, night sticks, and pepper spray, and they set punishments for individuals who initiate or participate in these activities.

In addition to maintaining order in prisons, correctional officers may also have administrative responsibilities. They may create and maintain reports of prisoner behaviors that are referenced by lawyers and judges when prisoners are being considered for release. They may also work at the front desk of prisons, allowing visitors in and collecting any necessary paperwork or identification. They report up to a warden and may have other responsibilities as assigned by the warden or other prison leaders.

Typical Work Schedule

Most correctional officers work full-time schedules. However, they do not work a 9-5 schedule because officers must be on hand to monitor prisoners and facilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This means that correctional officers may need to work evening or overnight shifts, weekends, and holidays.

Typical Employers

Most correctional officers work for federal, state, or local governments in government-managed prison facilities. Some may work for correctional service agencies that supply officers to prisons as needed.

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How To Become a Correctional Officer

To work in state or local prisons, a high school diploma is usually a sufficient level of education. Correctional officers must meet certain age and citizenship requirements, though. They usually must be either 18- or 21-years old, and must be U.S. citizens. Additionally, few prisons will accept new correctional officer candidates that are older than 37, so aspiring correctional officers should get their start in the field before they reach 37 years of age.

Federal prisons, on the other hand, generally require correctional officers to have a bachelor’s degree. Common majors for aspiring federal correctional officers include criminal justice, counseling, criminology, psychology, or justice administration. Some colleges may also offer a minor or specialization in corrections. In addition to a degree, federal correctional officers must also have a few years of professional experience in counseling or law enforcement.

While correctional officers are typically trained for their roles on the job, professional experience in a related field can help job candidates stand out when applying for open roles. Experience working in law enforcement, as a security officer, or as a counselor can prove to prospective employers that you have the skills necessary to succeed in a correctional officer role. Formal weapons training can also be beneficial to prove you’re capable of handling weapons and using them appropriately and safely.

Correctional Officer Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Correctional Officer salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Correctional Officer's can make an average annual salary of $45,320, or $22 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $32,960 or $16 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #446 Nationally for All Careers

Highest Education Among Correctional Officers

  • 0.3%   Doctorate
  • 2.2%   Masters
  • 13%   Bachelors
  • 14.3%   Associates
  • 38.1%   College
  • 31.2%   High School
  • 1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Correctional Officer job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 17,100 jobs for a total of 474,700 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 3.7% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #490 Nationally for All Careers

What Companies Employ The Most Correctional Officers

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
State government, excluding education and hospitals 243,000 3,800 4%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 172,700 9,800 10%
Facilities support services 22,000 5,500 6%

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