Generally speaking, a criminal conviction may be an obstacle that prevents you from pursuing a career as a corrections officer, either temporarily or permanently. In this role that revolves around supervising convicted criminals, usually inside correctional facilities, employers typically look for candidates with a clean criminal record. Having a history of felony conviction, even a long time ago, is never beneficial to getting the career you want, but in this particular occupation, felonies on your record could be a dealbreaker. Whether or not you will still have the opportunity to attempt to work in corrections depends on the policies and procedures of your specific employer.

How Strict Are Criminal Background Checks for Corrections Officers?

Corrections officer candidates are subject to criminal background checks as part of the application and hiring process. Unfortunately, any felony conviction that appears on your record as part of your background check may be enough to disqualify you from employment as a correctional officer, according to The Houston Chronicle – and so can any attempt to hide or lie about a conviction.

Different employers have different requirements with regards to a background check, with some being more lenient and others more rigorous in their expectations. In some states, you could be eligible for employment as a corrections officer even with a felony conviction if you were able to get that conviction expunged or pardoned. Usually, this can only occur in the case of low-level felony crimes that took place years ago.

In other states, the requirements are stricter. In California, for example, even felony convictions that were expunged or sealed from your record for the purpose of regular background checks are fair game for the corrections department to consider when you apply for a correctional officer role. In fact, if you were charged with a felony crime initially but the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor offense at the time you were convicted, that original felony charge may still keep you from a career in corrections.

Although a felony conviction may make you ineligible for consideration for a correctional officer position with some employers, that may not be true of all employers. It depends on the institutional policies of the prison system or department of corrections. If you have a criminal history that complicates your ability to become a correctional officer at a government-run facility, you may be able to find a position at a private prison or a program run by a nonprofit organization, where background check requirements may be more forgiving.

If the felony charges stemmed from an underage offense, you may still get to become a corrections officer. In many states, including California, juvenile criminal convictions will only prevent you from becoming a corrections officer if you were tried as an adult.

Other Factors That Can Make You Ineligible to Work in Corrections

Felonies are the most serious crimes, but they aren’t the only obstacles that could hold up your career plans. Depending on your employer – specifically, on state and federal prison systems – there are numerous other potential concerns. Misdemeanor convictions can also prohibit your employment as a corrections officer, often for a number of years after the offense. In Texas, for example, that term can be as long as 5 to 10 years, depending on the nature of the crime.

Offenses involving drugs and domestic violence are often sticking points, even if you were charged with a misdemeanor or lower-level crime. A dishonorable discharge from the military may also be enough to wipe out your dreams of being a correctional officer. Additionally, if you have any pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants for your arrest, you won’t be able to become a corrections officer, at least not until these legal matters are resolved.

Simple motor vehicle violations, like speeding or parking tickets, usually won’t preclude employment as a correctional officer. Serious crimes behind the wheel, such as driving under the influence (DUI)) and driving while intoxicated (DWI), may be an exception, especially if you have a history of repeat offenses.

Your options for dealing with a felony conviction or another mark on your criminal record vary from pursuing expungement to moving to a new state. Ultimately, if your crime is serious enough, you may have to find a different career path to pursue.

Additional Resources

Can I Get Into Law Enforcement If I Have a Felony on My Record?

How Do I Get Hired as a Corrections Officer?

What Are the Bad Parts of Being a Corrections Officer?