Corrections Officers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To work as a corrections officer, candidates generally must meet the minimum age requirement—usually 18 or 21—and have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Individuals without a high school education may be considered for employment if they have qualifying work experience, such as probation and parole experience. Applicants for corrections officer positions must be U.S. citizens and have no felony convictions.

Postsecondary Training

Many states and correctional facilities prefer or require officers to have postsecondary training in psychology, criminology, or related areas of study. Some states require applicants to have one or two years of previous experience in corrections or related police work. Military experience or related work experience is also required by some state governments. On the federal level, applicants should have at least two years of college or two years of work or military experience.

Training for corrections officers ranges from the special academy instruction provided by the federal government in some states to the informal, on-the-job training furnished by most states and local governments. The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates a Staff Training Academy in Glynco, Georgia. New federal correctional officer hires must complete a three-week, in-residence course of instruction called "Introduction to Correctional Techniques." The academy also offers instruction in advanced correctional speciality techniques such as marksman observer, bus operations, and witness security.

The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training provides links to states’ Peace Officer Standards and Training programs at 

Training academies have programs that last from four to eight weeks and instruct trainees on institutional policies, regulations, and procedures; the behavior and custody of inmates; security measures; and report writing. Training in self-defense, the use of firearms and other weapons, and emergency medical techniques is often provided. On-the-job trainees spend two to six months or more under the supervision of an experienced officer. During that period of time, they receive in-house training while gaining actual experience. Periodically, corrections officers may be given additional training as new ideas and procedures in criminal justice are developed.

Other Education or Training

The American Correctional Association (ACA) offers online training courses that can be taken to satisfy educational requirements for certification and recertification. Recent classes included Ethical Behavior in Corrections, Emergency Preparedness in a Correctional Setting, Maintaining Security, Intro to Mental Health Issues, and Supervision and Leadership. The ACA and the American Probation and Parole Association also provide professional development opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Numerous certification programs are available to corrections officers; these are optional in most states. Common certifications include self-defense, weapons use, urine analysis, shield and gun, shotgun/handgun, CPR, and cell extraction. Many officers also take advantage of additional training that is offered at their facility, on topics such as suicide prevention, AIDS awareness, use of four-point restraints, and emergency preparedness. At most prisons, there is annual mandatory in-service training that focuses on policies and procedures. The American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association offer certification programs to corrections officers and corrections managers.

Corrections officers who work for the federal government and most state governments are covered by civil service systems or merit boards and may be required to pass a competitive exam for employment. Many states require random or comprehensive drug testing of their officers, either during hiring procedures or while employed at the facility.

Other Requirements

Most correctional institutions require candidates to be at least 18 years old (sometimes 21 years old), have a high school diploma, and be a U.S. citizen with no criminal record. There are also health and physical strength requirements, and many states have minimum height, vision, and hearing standards. Other common requirements are a driver's license and a job record that shows you've been dependable.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Many officers enter this field after obtaining one to two years of experience in parole, probation, or social work positions. Military service may also offer experience and training in corrections. You may also look into obtaining a civilian job as a clerk or other worker for the police department or other protective service organization. Related part-time, volunteer, or summer work may also be available in psychiatric hospitals and other institutions providing physical and emotional counseling and services.

There is no denying that handling the inherent stress of this line of work takes a unique person. In a maximum-security facility, the environment is often noisy, crowded, poorly ventilated, and even dangerous. Corrections officers need the physical and emotional strength to handle the stress involved in working with criminals, some of whom may be violent. A corrections officer has to stay alert and aware of prisoners' actions and attitudes. This constant vigilance can be harder on some people. Work in a minimum-security prison is usually more comfortable, cleaner, and less stressful.

Officers need to use persuasion rather than brute force to get inmates to follow the rules. Certain inmates take a disproportionate amount of time and attention because they are either violent, mentally ill, or victims of abuse by other inmates. Officers have to carry out routine duties while being alert for the unpredictable outbursts. Sound judgment and the ability to think and act quickly are important qualities for corrections officers. With experience and training, corrections officers are usually able to handle volatile situations without resorting to physical force.

The ability to communicate clearly, verbally and in writing, is extremely important. Corrections officers have to write a number of reports, documenting routine procedures as well as any violations by the inmates. A correction officer's eight-hour shift can easily extend to 10 hours because of the reports that must be written.

An effective corrections officer is not easily intimidated or influenced by the inmates. There is a misconception, however, that corrections officers need to be tough. While it's true that a person needs some physical strength to perform the job, corrections officers also need to be able to use their head to anticipate and defuse any potentially dangerous situations between inmates or between guards and inmates.