How to Become a Correctional Officer:
The Definitive Guide

Do you have experience being an authority figure?

Are you well organized and have a knack for keeping people in line?

Do you have strong communication skills and are physically fit?

Then, it might be time to think about a career as a Correctional Officer.

As a Correctional Officer, you will work inside jails, prisons, and rehab facilities to ensure the safety and welfare of inmates and guests.

What is a Correctional Officer?

A Correctional Officer often called a prison guard, is tasked with making sure that all inmates are safe, healthy, and getting the help they need.

You could consider these men and women the voice of authority within a jail or prison.

Not only that, but you can find a Correctional Officer checking guests and visitors to ensure that they are not bringing contraband items into the facility.

This career is not easy, but it can be a way to help others and keep citizens safe.


There’s more to being a Correctional Officer than roaming the halls, waiting for something to happen.

A Correctional Officer must always be paying attention to what is going on around them, and they may also have to do tasks such as:

  • Enforce rules
  • Supervise activities
  • Inspect facilities
  • Search inmates
  • Report issues
  • Escort inmates
  • Transport inmates


On average in the United States, a Correctional Officer will make around $50,000 a year.

Correctional Officers who are new to the career will likely make a little less, at around $31,000 a year.

Those that work as a Correctional Officer for many years, and have the experience, will likely make around $78,000 a year.

Larger populations and higher socio-economic areas will likely pay Correctional Officers more than city or county jails.

Correctional Officers working in California will likely make more money than a Correctional Officer that works in Iowa.

With specializations and certifications, it’s possible to make more as well.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $53,420


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
New Hampshire$51,380
New Jersey$73,490
New Mexico$39,170
New York$71,160
North Carolina$41,520
North Dakota$48,510
South Carolina$40,620
South Dakota$42,160
West Virginia$42,270
Puerto Rico$26,620

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $81,170.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $81,170
New Jersey - $73,490
Massachusetts - $72,260
New York - $71,160
Oregon - $68,790
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Correctional Officer

Step 1Earn a High School Diploma

One of the most important steps in becoming a Correctional Officer is making sure that you have all of the necessary requirements.

The first requirement is that you have a high school diploma.

Now, some facilities require an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, but this is rare.

You also must be at least 18 years old to work in federal prison, but some suggest that waiting until you are a bit older is more helpful.

In order to be eligible to work as a Correctional Officer, you will also be required to make a Personal History Statement.

This is an extensive review of past residences, acquaintances, and any employment history.

After your PHS is reviewed and you have been accepted as a Correctional Officer, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 2Pass the Entrance Exam

Depending on where you decide to take a job, the facility will have its own requirements for the entrance exam.

However, many require an exam that tests your fitness skills as well as a written test that will showcase your knowledge of the legal system and a psychological exam to ensure that you will be able to handle the vigorous role of a Correctional Officer.

It is likely that you will have a vision and hearing test done, and if a Correctional Officer does not have 20/20 vision, they are required to have corrective lenses or contacts.

If you pass the exam, you will be placed on the certification list as a Correctional Peace officer until you are able to enter the training academy.

Step 3Enter Training Academy

This is where you will get to learn the ins and outs of the facility in which you plan to work.

You will get hands-on experience in the training academy, as well as education about self-defense, weapons, and psychological counseling methods.

It’s important that your training academy teaches:

  • Handling inmates
  • Officer safety
  • Crisis management
  • Physical conditioning

This way, you will be completely ready for your job as a Correctional Officer.

Some training academy’s last around six weeks, while others can take six months.

The length of the academy depends on the jurisdiction that you plan to work in.

The training academy is typically free and provided by the facility in which you work, you may also get paid for your time at the training academy.

Step 4Gain Experience

After you have graduated from the training academy, you will be able to work as a Correctional Officer in a prison, jail, or other facilities.

Having experience in a prison or jail is the only way you can really learn how to be a Correctional Officer because every facility is different.

Once you learn the day to day activities of the place you are employed, you can start to gain very good experience and knowledge about what it takes to be a Correctional Officer.

Some people choose to work as Correctional Officers for their entire career, but others want more from their jobs.

It’s possible to earn a degree to get a higher job title, but the experience can also increase your chances of a raise as well.

Step 5Advance Your Career

You can’t advance in your career without experience, so that’s the first step.

However, it’s possible to gain certain credentials or degrees in order to work your way up in the prison system.

There are some certifications that a Correctional Officer can earn that may open some doors.

These credentials include:

  • Correctional Behavior Health Certification
  • Certified Corrections Supervisor
  • Certified Jail Officer
  • Certified Jail Executive

With these certifications, you can show an employer that you are competent about your career, and possibly earn promotions.

Some of the other careers that you may gain from certifications are:

  • Corrections Superintendent
  • Jail Recruit Deputy
  • Detention Officer
  • Lead Correctional Officer


There aren’t any universal requirements for working as a Correctional Officer, it all depends on the place in which you want to be employed.

Some prison systems and rehab facilities require that you earn an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree, which can take anywhere from two to four years to complete.

Instead of formal education, most correctional facilities require that Correctional Officers enroll in the training academy, where they learn the tricks of the trade.

While enrolled in the training academy, you will be required to show physical strength as well as written and verbal communication strengths.

Some of the most important topics learned in training academy include:

  • Firearms training
  • First aid/CPR
  • Managing special needs offenders
  • Preventing workplace violence
  • Use of force/restraints
  • Report writing
  • Riot prevention and control
  • Disciplinary procedures
  • Offender rights and privileges
  • Defensive tactics
  • Self-defense

Many Correctional Officers will tell you that the best training is on the job training, which you can only receive while working as a Correctional Officer.

To prepare for the role, you must take on physical tests in order to show your strength and stamina.

There are a lot of mental and physical demands in this career, which is why recording and reporting your physical fitness is a part of the training academy.

You will also be required to:

  • Run an obstacle course
  • Run
  • Walk
  • Condition muscles
  • Learn self-defense tactics

Some training academies last for a few weeks, while others can last for up to 6 months.

This depends on where you work and what their requirements are.

All new Correctional Officers who pass training will become cadets and are sworn into their new roles.

There will also be regular on the job training opportunities for Correctional Officers to keep up on current job duties and legal requirements.

In order to learn more, you will need to contact the correctional facility where you plan to work.

Video About The Career


Every jurisdiction may have its own certifications for their Correctional Officers.

Some of the more well-known ones include:

  • Certified Correctional Officer/Adult
  • Certified Correctional Officer/Juvenile
  • Correctional Behavior Health Certification
  • Certified Corrections Supervisor
  • Certified Jail Officer
  • Certified Jail Executive

In order to earn certification as a Certified Correctional Officer/Adult, you will need at least two years of experience as a Correctional Officer.

You will also be required to take an exam to show your knowledge of the job.

This certification is for Correctional Officers who work directly with offenders.

The certification for Certified Correctional Officer/Juvenile has the same requirements.

Both of these certifications will allow you to showcase your capabilities as a Correctional Officer.

If you are looking to gain promotion with certifications, it may be time to look into either becoming a Certified Corrections Supervisor or a Certified Jail Executive.

A Certified Corrections Supervisor is someone with several years of experience as a Correctional Officer, who shows leadership skills, and knows how to organize and take care of a prison.

This certification requires a written and oral exam as well.

A Certified Jail Executive is considered one of the highest forms of Correctional Officers.

With this certification, a Correctional Officer will oversee both staff and offenders as well as the development of policies and procedures throughout the prison system.

Certified Correctional Behavior Certification is an advanced credential for Correctional Officers who have several years of experience in the field as well as a Bachelor’s degree or above.

In order to earn this certification, you must take an oral and written exam.

This certification will allow you to work with offenders with mental health issues.

Any certification will allow for promotions or raises, and they also show your employer that you are willing to learn continuously in order to be the best Correctional Officer you can be.

Certification Example:

Correctional Officer Certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months

Most certifications require that you work several years as a Correctional Officer before you are eligible.

The first certification requires at least two years of experience, however, once you take the exam you have earned the certification.

There is no training aside from on the job training when you work as a Correctional Officer.

When you first start out in the career, you may enter training academy and be updated on tactics throughout your career, but most certifications require no program or classes.

Popular Programs

Job Outlook

There will always be a need for Correctional Officers due to the presence of crime.

Correctional Officers should see a 7 percent drop in job outlook within the next ten years.

This is about equal to other careers within the same field.

Due to the high costs of keeping people in prison, many governments are deciding to create laws that are alternatives to prison.

There are also several rehabilitation programs and community-based programs that keep prisoner numbers down.

Even with all of the disadvantages, there will be many Correctional Officer positions due to retirements, transfers, and other Correctional Officers leaving the labor force.

Employment Growth Projection: -7%


That's a higher than average projected growth of -30,000 jobs.

Correctional Officer: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Correctional Officer?

Overall Satisfaction: Low

Overall Satisfaction

Being a Correctional Officer is considered one of the riskiest professions.

This is due to the work and institutional dangers, as well as mental and physical health risks.

The major risk factors in this career are stress and burnout.

Many Correctional Officers have even been diagnosed with PTSD after leaving this career.

Those that work in this career say that the way to beat the stress is to always remain positive and look at the bright side of your job.

A Correctional Officer needs to be both physically and mentally strong to enjoy this field of work.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

The average salary for a Correctional Officer in the United States is around $50,000 a year.

Those that have many years of experience or have had several promotions can make up to $78,000 a year.

However, if you are just starting out in your career as a Correctional Officer, you can expect a salary of around $30,000 a year.

Correctional Officers that work in larger prisons in areas with higher socioeconomic statuses will likely make more money than someone working in smaller county jail.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

Even though the job growth prospects for this career aren’t stellar, at around -7 percent, prospective Correctional Officers shouldn’t worry about not having any job opportunities any time soon.

Every year, Correctional Officers retire, quit the workforce, or leave the job for other reasons, and that creates more job opportunities for new Correctional Officers looking for employment.

There are also many new programs for rehabilitation, to try and prevent more prisoners from entering the prison system.

This could cut down on career opportunities in some areas.

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

Education Duration

In order to work as a Correctional Officer in the United States, you will need to apply to a job opportunity and then wait to be hired.

This can take anywhere from 12-18 months.

A typical hiring process consists of a written examination and a physical test.

There’s no legal formal training or education needed to become a Correctional Officers, however, some employers do like to see that you’ve earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice.

This can take around two years to complete, but can also be done in as little as 18 months for some programs.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Correctional Officers need to be strong in mind and body because they deal with many different situations throughout the day, some of them are extremely dangerous.

There are many skills that a Correctional Officer needs to have a successful career, they include:

  • Emotional stability and durability
  • Empathy
  • Law-abiding citizen
  • Leadership skills
  • Tact
  • Personal and social judgment skills
  • Environmental awareness ability
  • Motivation
  • Stamina
  • Physical fitness
  • Ability to manage many people
  • Ability to respond to emergency situations

As a Correctional Officer, you will be spending a lot of time with inmates, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be mentally stable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What does a Correctional Officer do?

A Correctional Officer makes sure that every one that is in a prison or other correctional facility is safe at all times.

This could mean inmates, guests, employees, and themselves.

They also transport and deal with inmate issues.

You can expect to find Correctional Officers roaming halls, watching the cafeteria, and handling situations that arise within a prison system.

Q. How long does it take to become a Correctional Officer?

The average time that it takes to become a Correctional Officer is around 6 months.

This is because, in order to work as a Correctional Officer, you will need an extensive background check as well as training.

Background checks can take a while to come through, especially for as much information as is needed to become a Correctional Officer.

Training academies can take anywhere from 6 weeks to several months, as well.

Q. What is the average salary of a Correctional Officer?

In the United States, the average salary for a Correctional Officer is around $50,000 a year.

Don’t expect that kind of pay right out of the gate though, unless you work somewhere like California or New York.

Most entry-level Correctional Officers make around $31,000 a year.

Those with certifications and years of experience can make up to $78,000 a year.

Q. Is there a demand for Correctional Officers?

Although it may not be good for some people, there will likely always be a need for Correctional Officers.

This is due to the fact that crime happens all the time in every city around the country.

Even though many courts are requiring rehab or other non-prison sentences, there will always be a need for Correctional Officers to oversee prisons and other facilities.

The demand for Correctional Officers will drop around 7 percent within the next decade.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Correctional Officer?

If you do not plan to have any formal education before becoming a Correctional Officer, it doesn’t have to cost you anything.

If you decide to earn an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice or another equivalent, this can cost around $15,000 to $20,000.

Those that earn a Bachelor’s degree can expect to pay around $30,000 for their education.

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One Comment
  1. Avatar for Kameelah Harris Kameelah Harris

    I think I’m interested in becoming a correctional officer.

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