Corrections officer, or correctional officer, is a job role in the protective services field. If you’re considering this career path, you should know that the duties of a corrections officer revolve primarily around supervising inmates in a jail, prison or other correctional situation. This occupation typically favors academy training over a formal college education and is a good choice for those candidates who possess physical strength, self-discipline and interpersonal and negotiating skills.

A Role in Protective Service and Criminal Justice

Protective services roles include police officers, firefighters, detectives, private investigators, security guards and fire inspectors, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Different protective services jobs tend to take place in different work environments and protect people in different ways, from patrolling and securing public and private sites to extinguishing fires. For corrections officers, the central job responsibility of the profession – supervising people who are in custody or incarcerated – protects the public while also protecting the subjects of their supervision, according to the BLS.

Corrections officers also serve a crucial role in the criminal justice system, the sets of institutions that, together, serve to enforce criminal law and ensure justice is served.  While criminal justice roles in law enforcement may involve investigating crimes and apprehending criminals, the role of a corrections officer comes later in the criminal justice process, once a suspect is in custody awaiting trial or has been convicted and sentenced.

Although a college education isn’t required for many correctional officer positions, the BLS reported, criminal justice is a popular major for candidates who choose to go to college.

Employment Industries and Environments for Corrections Officers

The vast majority of corrections officers work for some sort of government entity, while others work for private prison systems or for non-profit community programs and organizations. State governments account for 55 percent of the occupation, the BLS reported. Next most common are local government jobs, which account for 36 percent of correctional officer positions. Corrections officer jobs with the federal government make up just 4 percent of the profession and typically have the strictest job requirements, including a bachelor’s degree, the BLS reported.

In addition to the distinction between who owns and operates the correctional facility, there is also a distinction between different types of facilities. Corrections officers who work in jails often oversee individuals in custody for shorter terms. They may supervise people who have been arrested and are waiting for their trial or those who are serving shorter sentences as penalties for less serious criminal offenses. In prisons, the population of incarcerated individuals a correctional officer may oversee are usually sentenced to longer terms, often for perpetrating more severe crimes. As a result, corrections officers in jails tend to supervise a greater number and variety of prisoners, while those working in prisons develop years-long relationships with a smaller group of inmates.

Some correctional officers work in community corrections, an area that involves supervising those convicted of a crime in the community – either instead of incarceration or upon completing their sentences.  

The Job Duties of a Corrections Officer

Whether working in a jail run by the local government or a private prison, the job duties of a correctional officer are very much alike. From booking new prisoners to intervening in urgent situations like assaults or escapes, the BLS reported, correctional officers are the ones primarily responsible for maintaining order and enforcing rules inside a correctional facility. Accomplishing this objective requires work in many different areas.

Inspecting facilities’ security measures and inmates’ cells and incoming and outgoing mail helps prevent problems like assaults within a prison, escapes from a facility and the arrival of contraband, or potentially dangerous items not permitted inside the premises. They report on prisoner’s activities and on any rule violations. When a prisoner needs to leave the facility, to go to a courtroom, doctor or hospital or other location, corrections officers are responsible for transporting them, which may involve securing them in handcuffs and other types of restraints.

Today’s correctional facilities place a greater emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation than in the past. Although security is still the main focus of many modern corrections officer roles, some corrections officers now handle more counseling and rehabilitative job duties.

Additional Resources

What Are the Daily Duties of a Corrections Officer?

What Are the Bad Parts of Being a Corrections Officer?

How Do I Get Hired as a Corrections Officer?