Criminal justice is a broad field with many career options. Police officer is one of the most well-known, but correctional officer is another. Here we explore the correctional officer role, providing a better understanding of what a professional in this position does, salary potential, advancement opportunities, and how to get started on this criminal justice career path.
What Does a Correctional Officer Do?
A correctional officer—sometimes referred to as a corrections officer—is tasked with keeping a safe and secure jail or prison environment. This involves monitoring people who are confined while going through the court process, as well as looking after those who have been convicted, sentenced, and are serving their court-ordered time.
Some correctional officers are assigned to environments outside the jail or prison. For instance, transport officers are responsible for getting prisoners to and from the courthouse to appear in their legal proceedings. Others are assigned to work inside the courthouses, taking inmates from the court lockup to the courtroom to stand before the judge. Correctional officers assigned to a courthouse are typically referred to as bailiffs.
Regardless of where the correctional officer works, their goal is to keep both the prisoners and the public safe. The former is achieved by resolving any tension between inmates, by conducting regular inspections to locate prisoner-made weapons or drugs (both of which are referred to as contraband), and ensuring that the prisoner’s mental and physical health needs are met. The latter is achieved by following safety protocols, such as securing the prisoner according to agency standards and preventing a possible escape.
How Much Does a Correctional Officer Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median pay for correctional officers and bailiffs is $47,410 per year or roughly $22.81 per hour. Additionally, correctional officers and jailers working for the federal government tend to make the most at $60,540 annually. This is followed by those who are employed by local governments ($47,290), state governments ($46,800), and facilities support services ($41,980).
Keep in mind that these are just medians. Actual pay as a correctional officer can vary based on a variety of factors. These factors include your level of experience, education, and even geographical area. For instance, the top-paying states for correctional officers are California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York according to the BLS.
Advancement Opportunities in this Criminal Justice Career
If you decide that a correctional officer career is the right criminal justice career path for you, there are plenty of advancement opportunities. Jail and prison systems generally operate using a chain of command. Each position up the chain has expanded responsibilities within the jail or prison system.
While the exact position titles can change depending on the individual facility, they may include (from lowest-ranking to highest-ranking):
- Correctional officer
- Correctional sergeant
- Correctional lieutenant
- Correctional captain
- Correctional major
Correctional officers can also advance into more administrative roles, holding job duties related to running the facility, such as setting up the jail or prison budget. The top correctional officer in a jail is often referred to as a jail administrator or jail director. The top correctional officer in a prison is called a warden.
How to Become a Correctional Officer
To work as a correctional officer, you must typically attend and complete a training academy. This academy prepares you for the correctional officer role by teaching the laws and rules that apply to a corrections setting, in addition to providing the physical skills that can help keep you safe while performing your assigned duties.
Each correctional facility and correctional officer training program can set its educational requirements for this criminal justice position. While some allow applicants to apply with a high school education, others require an associate degree or higher.
Generally speaking, many of the advanced correctional officer roles require a higher level of education, such as a bachelor's or master’s degree. Therefore, if your goal is to eventually obtain one of these higher positions, a more advanced degree can help prepare you for these job duties.
Start Working Toward Your Career as a Correctional Officer Today
If the correctional officer career path sounds good to you, obtaining your degree can provide the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in this role.
Saint Leo University offers many different criminal justice degree programs, enabling you to choose the one that is best aligned with your career goals. They include an associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. You can also minor in criminal justice as a Saint Leo student.
Depending on which degree program you choose, you may be able to earn your degree on campus, online, or by attending one of our education centers. Plus, when you earn your bachelor's or master’s degree at Saint Leo, you also get to choose a specialization.
For example, Saint Leo offers a Master of Science in criminal justice with a corrections specialization. This program is designed to help prepare you for a higher-level administrative role within the correctional career path.
Contact admissions today at (877) 622-2009 to learn more or request information online.