Although a career in corrections doesn’t require a Ph.D. or a series of notoriously difficult professional certification exams, the hiring process does have its own challenges. Generally, candidates must meet minimum education and eligibility requirements and successfully complete academy training as a cadet.
Complete the Required Education
Like many careers, corrections officer has some level of educational requirements. The precise requirements depend on factors like what level of government you work for, which state you work in and what level of career advancement you are seeking. Most entry-level correctional officer roles require only a high school diploma, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. As a result, 89 percent of correctional officers report that a high school diploma is their highest level of education, according to the Occupational Information Network.
In certain situations, an aspiring or established corrections officer may wish to go to college. A desire to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is one such situation. Corrections officers working for the federal government usually need either a bachelor’s degree or at least three years of full-time general work experience or one year of specialized work experience. Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons doesn’t require a specific program of study, corrections officers usually choose a major closely related to their career path. Some colleges offer programs in corrections specifically, while others have more general programs in criminal justice or law enforcement. You might also choose a program of study in psychology, counseling or sociology.
The main reason any program of study is acceptable for a career in corrections is because officers learn most of what they need to know through mandatory academy training.
Make Sure You Meet Eligibility Requirements
Each employer of corrections officers has its own set of eligibility requirements that you must meet to be considered for a position. Often, those requirements include a minimum age, minimum physical fitness abilities, citizenship or legal resident status requirements and a clean criminal record.
Some employers only require corrections officers to be 18 years of age, but others have a minimum age of 21 or higher. You may need to be under a certain age at the time you apply for a correctional officer role, as well.
Because there are important physical components to the job duties of a corrections officer – and because physical fitness is crucial to keeping yourself as well as others safe – you should expect to undergo physical training as part of your academy training. Before being accepted to the academy, you may need to meet certain physical fitness requirements to show that you can handle the physical challenges of training and the career path. If you are not a legal resident or citizen, you may not be eligible for employment until you gain legal status. Having a criminal history can also prevent you from being considered for this occupation, especially if your offense or conviction prevents you from legally owning and using a firearm.
If you aren’t yet 21, you need to take further steps to secure the required legal status or you aren’t yet in the physical shape needed to succeed at academy training, achieving your dream of becoming a corrections officer may simply take more time than you expected.
Apply for a Corrections Officer Role and Academy Training
Applying for a position as a corrections officer isn’t always easy. Some employers require candidates to pass a written pre-employment exam as part of their application. Although this requirement may sound intimidating, the exam is often easier than candidates expect.
In Texas, for example, the correctional officer pre-employment test is made up of 100 questions, all multiple-choice, on subjects such as Verbal Reasoning, Situational Reasoning, Reading Comprehension/Deductive Reasoning, Arithmetic and Memory and Observation. Upon passing the test, your interview will commence. Although applicants are advised to set aside 3 to 8 hours for the process, this long timeframe is due more to the interview process than to the exam itself.
Once you get hired for a correctional officer role, you start your career as a cadet at a training academy. Academy training can take a matter of weeks to months, the BLS reported. Your training will cover a variety of topics necessary for success on the job, from the institutional policies of the facility or system in which you will work to self-defense tactics and safety procedures you must follow to prevent harm to yourself and others.
Cadets may make less money than fully trained working corrections officers, but often, on-campus academy housing is provided. You may also be eligible for a recruiting bonus at certain units. Once you are officially employed, you will likely see a salary increase.