How to Become a

Prison Guard

The complete career guide to be a Prison Guard: 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

Prison guards are responsible for maintaining order in prisons. They oversee the activities of prisoners and watch for signs of danger. They may inspect prisoners, guests, and prison cells for contraband like drugs or weapons. They also observe facilities for signs of escape or evidence of impending violence.

Recommended Schools

What is a Prison Guard?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in prison guard 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

Prison guards are responsible for keeping order in prisons. They orchestrate the daily activities of prisoners and oversee prisoner behaviors and actions in order to prevent malicious behaviors. They may observe prisoners during meal times, during yard time, or while working to ensure that all prisoners are where they’re supposed to be, and they document and investigate any suspicious behaviors. Ideally, prison guards recognize early signs of malicious behavior to prevent incidents before they occur.

Prison guards are responsible for keeping prisons free of dangerous contraband like drugs and weapons. They inspect prisoner’s guests when they arrive for visits to ensure no contraband is carried into the prison, and they also inspect incoming mail for dangerous items. They also do frequent and/or random checks of prison cells to look for contraband or signs of attempted escapes. They’re responsible for confiscating contraband when discovered and setting punishments for offenders.

Prison guards are also responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone in the prison—including themselves, other guards, and all prisoners. They watch for signs of impending violence, fights, or riots and attempt to prevent incidents before they occur. When violent incidents do occur, prison guards are responsible for putting an end to the violence, and may need to use non-fatal weapons like stun guns, night sticks, or pepper spray to end attacks and break up violent incidents.

Typical Work Schedule

Most prison guard roles are full-time positions. Prison guards do not work a 9-5 schedule because guards must be on hand to monitor prisoners and facilities 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This means that prison guards may need to work evening or overnight shifts, weekends, and holidays.

Typical Employers

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

Recommended Schools

How To Become a Prison Guard

To work in state or local prisons, a high school diploma is usually a sufficient level of education. Prison guards 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 prison guard candidates that are older than 37, so aspiring prison guards should get their start in the field before they reach 37 years of age.

Federal prisons, on the other hand, generally require prison guards to have a bachelor’s degree. Common majors for aspiring federal prison guards 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 prison guards must also have a few years of professional experience in counseling or law enforcement.

While prison guards 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 prison guard role. Formal weapons training and certification can also be beneficial to prove you’re capable of handling weapons and using them appropriately and safely.

Prison Guard 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

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Prison Guard salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Prison Guard'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 Prison Guards

  • 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 Prison Guard 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 Prison Guards

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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