Corrections officer is an extremely important job, but not one undergoing a tremendous amount of job growth. In fact, due to changes in the criminal justice system and incarceration practices, jobs for corrections officers are expected to decrease over a decade when other career paths are still seeing at least modest growth. The good news, however, is that the need for corrections officers won’t disappear anytime soon, and thanks to high rates of officers retiring or otherwise leaving the occupation, your prospects for employment in this profession are still strong.
Employment of Corrections Officers in the U.S.
There are approximately 434,300 Americans working as correctional officers across the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More than half of corrections officers work for state governments – primarily, state-operated prisons, although community-based correctional officer roles also exist in state programs. Another 36 percent work for the local government. The jails run by local governments typically house inmates for a shorter span of time, either while waiting for a trial or sentencing or while serving shorter sentences for less severe crimes.
Five percent of correctional officers work in facilities support services and four percent in federal government agencies, according to the BLS. Although federal agencies account for only a small fraction of the total number of correctional officer jobs in America, correctional officers make up the largest part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons workforce.
Most corrections officers employed today have a high school diploma as their highest level of formal education, the Occupational Information Network reported. The corrections officers most likely to have a college degree are those working for federal agencies.
Declining Jobs in Traditional Correctional Facilities
The BLS expects employment opportunities in the U.S. as a whole to grow by 5 percent over a decade. However, some jobs are seeing rapid growth, while other occupations are shrinking. Correctional officer is one of these professions in which job opportunities are on the decline. Over that same period where the average job growth is predicted to be 5 percent, correctional officer positions are expected to decline by 7 percent. That translates to a loss of 31,400 jobs.
Although this data is less than encouraging for aspiring corrections officers, it isn’t all bad news. The reasons for these declines are generally positive. The BLS identifies socially beneficial trends in the criminal justice system, such as a stronger focus on rehabilitation rather than lengthy prison sentences and the implementation of community-based corrections programs that cost the public less than incarceration, as contributing factors to this decline.
Even if you really want to be a corrections officer, the decline in overall positions isn’t a reason to panic. The BLS still expects strong job prospects for newcomers to the profession because many established officers will likely retire or leave the occupation.
Considering a Career in Community Corrections
These changes to the criminal justice system may also make way for many changes to the work of a corrections officer, especially as community corrections programs continue to grow. You may find work opportunities outside of a traditional correctional facility in which you supervise those convicted of a crime while they remain in their community or help former inmates acclimate back into life on the outside. Even if you work in a jail or prison, these trends can alter the most important duties of your job. Certain prison systems today are emphasizing rehabilitation more than in years past and expect correctional officers to provide some degree of rehabilitative counseling to inmates, particularly as their sentences come to an end.
One reason rehabilitation is becoming a focus in criminal justice is because these programs can help reduce the risk of repeat offenses, preventing future crimes and saving taxpayers money in court and incarceration costs.
Improving Your Job Prospects in Corrections
If the dismal career outlook is making you reconsider a career in corrections, you should know that you have options for improving your job prospects in this occupation, such as going to college. Although only the federal government typically requires a bachelor’s degree for an entry-level corrections officer position, having a college education can strengthen your job application and set you up for future career advancement to management and supervisory roles.
Studying corrections or criminal justice can equip you with a foundation in psychology that helps you succeed in difficult job duties like rehabilitative counseling. Your education can also help you prepare for the written examination required to be accepted into a correctional officer training academy.
Making your physical fitness a priority and acquiring relevant professional experience in a job like private security officer can also help you perform better in the correctional officer hiring process.