Working as a correctional officer is a way to play an important role in the functioning of an orderly society. It falls on the shoulders of corrections officers to keep the peace and ensure order at local jails, as well as state and federal prisons, which in turn keeps the rest of the community safe.
Corrections officers process roughly 13 million prisoners each year at local jails, while those working at state and federal prisons oversee a prison population of about 1.6 million incarcerated offenders.
Corrections officers have three main duties:
- Provide security
- Account for inmates
- Prevent disturbances such as assaults or riots
Online degrees in corrections
Online criminal justice degrees are a natural educational path for students who wish to enter the field of corrections. Groups such as the American Correctional Association (ACA) provide online training courses, and there are numerous schools that offer online degrees in corrections.
Coursework includes many of the following specialized classes:
- Conditions of confinement
- Use of force and due process
- U.S. legal system
- Civil justice system
- Religion, communication and personal searches
Other areas of study include criminal law, psychology and criminal procedures. Online degrees in corrections prepare students for work in the fields of corrections, parole, probation and juvenile justice. Students of online programs are often required to complete more written work, since there is an increased focus on discussion boards rather than verbal lectures. Coursework typically is delivered through textbooks and Internet communication, as well as peer-to-peer interaction. Full-time students can expect to work 12 to 15 hours each week completing assignments.
Educational and training requirements
Many people choose the field of corrections for its ease of entry. Corrections officers must have completed a high school diploma or graduate equivalency diploma (GED). Frequently, new recruits are sent to a training academy before being assigned to a correctional facility, where they receive additional training.
Employees working in federal prisons must complete bachelor's degrees, and some state facilities require a smattering of post-secondary education as well, the BLS reports. Workers at federal prisons must complete 200 hours of formal training, as well as an additional 120 hours of specialized training at the federal training center in Glynco, Ga. Correctional officers who work as part of tactical teams typically receive additional training in riot control, hostage situations and extracting obstinate prisoners from cells.
The job can be highly stressful, according to O*Net OnLine, a website run by the U.S. Department of Labor. Corrections officers should be able to calmly deal with extremely stressful situations. They should be able to maintain control of their emotions at all times, even when dealing with aggressive behavior.
Correctional officers and jailers earned median annual wages of $39,040 in 2010, the BLS reports. There were 457,550 corrections officers employed throughout the country. More than half worked for state governments, another third worked for local governments.
Some choose to work for private companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America, which employs more than 17,500 corrections officers. Corrections officers with post-secondary education may also find work with the Department of Homeland Security, in juvenile justice, or in private investigation and private security.
Corrections at a glance
- On-the-job skills: Maintain confidence and control emotions in difficult working situations
- Salary: Nationwide, median annual wages approached $40,000
- Educational minimum: High school diploma or GED required