What is a Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers are responsible for enforcing rules and regulations in a prison or jail. They oversee individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or prison.

Correctional officers often restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to escort them safely to and from cells and other areas. They also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations.

What does a Correctional Officer do?

A correctional officer escorting a prisoner within a prison.

Inside prisons or jails, correctional officers enforce rules and regulations so as to avoid disturbances, and keep a close watch on daily activities in order to prevent escapes. They also search for weapons and drugs, settle arguments, and enforce discipline.

Correctional officers enforce regulations by knowing how to effectively communicate and by using punishments, such as loss of privileges. Loss of privileges start out small for a lesser or single offence but become more severe for more serious offences or when repeat offences occur. In addition, officers may aid inmates in their rehabilitation by scheduling work assignments, counseling, and educational opportunities.

Correctional officers periodically inspect facilities. They check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, contraband, signs of a security breach such as any tampering with window bars or doors, and any other evidence of violations of the rules. Officers also inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. They write reports or fill out daily logs detailing inmate behaviour and anything of note that occurred during their shift.

Correctional officers need to use the best approach when solving a problem by using both their training and common sense to determine the best course of action. They need to interact and communicate with inmates to keep the order in correctional facilities and courtrooms. They also need to be able to control their emotions when confronted with hostile situations, and not show favouritism.

If a crime is committed within their institution or an inmate escapes, they help the law enforcement authorities investigate or search for the escapee. Correctional officers have no responsibilities for law enforcement outside of their place of work.

Responsibilities of correctional officers:

  • Enforce rules and keep order within jails or prisons
  • Supervise activities of inmates
  • Aid in rehabilitation and counselling of offenders
  • Inspect conditions within facilities to ensure that they meet established standards
  • Search inmates for contraband items
  • Report on inmate conduct

Are you suited to be a correctional officer?

Correctional officers have distinct personalities. They tend to be realistic individuals, which means they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty. They like tasks that are tactile, physical, athletic, or mechanical. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if correctional officer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Correctional Officer like?

The vast majority of correctional officers work for the government. Some are employed by private companies that provide correctional services to prisons and jails.

Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and dangerous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates, having one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries.

Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Most facilities are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a Correctional Officer?

The length of time required to become a correctional officer varies depending on the chosen educational track, the intended career trajectory, and jurisdictional requirements:

  • Correctional Officer Certificate Program – three to twelve months
  • Associate Degree in Applied Science in Corrections – two years
  • Bachelor’s Degree Program in Corrections, Criminology, Criminal Justice, or a related field – four years

Should I become a Correctional Officer?

Correctional officers almost always find themselves in stressful and dangerous situations. This fact alone demands that they bring a particular and varied skill set to the job every day.

Observation Skills
Many harmful encounters or serious events that correctional officers face occur without obvious warning. Keen observational skills can help an officer spot these events before they happen.

Perceptiveness & Sound Judgement
Correctional officers work in close proximity to inmates every single day. A seemingly normal event can become an emergency situation if an officer is unable to distinguish a potential threat from innocent behavior and take the right steps.

Interpersonal & Negotiating Skills
Correctional officers are in constant communication with both colleagues and inmates. They must be able to develop rapport, command respect, and effectively convey directions and orders. Especially in stressful situations, they must be able to resolve differences to avoid conflict.

Ethical Decision-making Skills
The ability to quickly determine the best course of action is vital in achieving desired outcomes.

Attention to Detail
Correctional officers are called upon to enforce strict procedures in correctional facilities and courts to ensure the safety of everyone present in those environments.

Mental Health / Emotional Strength / Self-discipline
Composure and discipline are critical when confronted with stressful, hostile situations and antagonistic inmates.

Physical Fitness & Strength
Excellent eyesight and hearing are prerequisites of the job. There will also be times when a correctional officer’s brute strength is the only thing keeping an inmate in check and secure.

What are Correctional Officers like?

Based on our pool of users, correctional officers tend to be predominately investigative people. Take our career test to see what career interest category best describes you.

The two strongest interest archetypes for correctional officers are investigative and social. This finding is both expected and encouraging, given the focus of the role on constant intense observation of and interaction with inmates.

Are Correctional Officers happy?

Correctional officers rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 2nd percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

This strikingly low career satisfaction quotient, especially evidenced in the work environment dimension, may be rooted in the inherently stressful and dangerous nature of the work that correctional officers do every day.

Correctional Officers are also known as:
Corrections Officer Detention Officer Prison Officer Penal Officer Jailer Jail Guard Prison Guard