If you have heard that prison guards make good money, you might be surprised to find that the median annual wage for this position isn’t as high as you would think. Salaries for correctional officers can vary a great deal depending on factors like location, type of employer, your level of experience and education, seniority and the amount of overtime you work. You can certainly earn a good living working as a corrections officer, especially if you make strategic choices regarding where and how much you work.
Salary Data for Correctional Officers
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary of $44,400, or $21.35 per hour, for correctional officers. The 10 percent of corrections officers who earn the least make under $31,140 per year, while the 10 percent making the most money earn 2.5 times that amount, with salaries above $76,760.
The federal government pays correctional officers the most, with a median salary of $58,010. Unfortunately, just 4 percent of the occupation, or around 17,372 corrections officers, work for this top-paying employer. Median salaries for the two top employing industries, state and local governments, are very close, at $43,940 and $44,830, respectively. The 5 percent of corrections officers working in facilities support services earn the least, with the BLS reporting a $38,990 median wage.
The related career of bailiff has a similar median salary but an even greater wage discrepancy depending on type of employer. Bailiffs working for state governments earn a $67,750 median salary, compared to just $41,440 for those employed by local governments.
The Best- and Worst-Paying States for Corrections Officers
Whether you work at the federal, state or local level impacts your earning potential, but so does the state in which you work. Corrections officers in the highest-paying states can see wages that more than double those in low-paying states. California is the top-paying state for corrections officers, with an average salary of $75,400 per year, the BLS reported. Next is New Jersey, where corrections officers earn an average of $70,280. Mean wages for corrections officers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are comparable at $68,710 and $67,920. The fifth best-paying state for corrections officers, Alaska, pays a mean salary of $64,670. A dozen states pay their corrections officers an average salary between $54,420 and $75,400.
Almost as many states pay corrections officers less than $36,760 per year on average. The lowest-paying state, Mississippi, pays its correctional officers an average of just $30,840 per year – or $14.83 per hour, less than the minimum wage of some states. Missouri is another low-paying state, with a mean wage of $31,650. In these states, the corrections officers who make the least may earn barely $20,000 per year.
Eight of the 10 top-paying metropolitan areas for correctional officers are located in California, with the remaining two in Eugene, OR, and Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ.
Raising Your Income Potential as a Corrections Officer
What can you do to improve your salary as a correctional officer? In many government entities, you may see a salary increase over time as you receive regular raises based on your year of service. Having a college education can also help you earn more money in several different ways. A bachelor’s degree can qualify you for federal positions, which already pay considerably more than state and local correctional officer roles. It may also help you move up into a supervisory role after you gain work experience.
Overtime is also an important source of additional income for corrections officers. A prison can never be left unstaffed, even on weekends and holidays. As a result, correctional officers often work shift work and may be offered, or required to work, overtime. Although not ideal for your work-life balance, overtime contributes a great deal to your earning potential, often adding up to tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, it’s not unheard of for correctional officers to earn more money in overtime pay than their base salary or to even triple their base salary by working overtime. However, to save money, some areas are attempting to reduce overtime work.
According to the BLS, the median salary with just a high school diploma is $712 per week, or $37,024 year, compared to $1,173 per week, or $60,996 per year, with a bachelor’s degree. Nearly 90 percent of corrections officers have only a high school diploma.