The police officers who solve crimes and the prosecutors whofile charges against criminals are just the first step in the criminal justicesystem. What happens to criminals who are successfully prosecuted and convictedof a crime? Oftentimes, they are sentenced to prison terms as punishment fortheir transgressions.

Imprisoning criminals is hardly a new concept. Since the1500s,England has used incarceration as a means of punishment in prisons and dungeonsalike, sometimes with quite inhumane conditions for their prisoners. Followingthe American Revolution, America also implemented the widespread use of prisonsto house criminals who were deemed a threat to society.

However, prison is meant to be more than punishment. It isintended to rehabilitate offenders with the ultimate goal of reintroducing themback into the population to become productive members of society. This is wherecorrections officers come in.

Job Duties

The primary responsibility of any correctional officer is tooversee those who have been incarcerated and are serving terms of imprisonmentfollowing a conviction in a court of law. They also oversee individuals whohave been arrested and awaiting trial. They can work in county jails, state orfederal prisons or other reformatories.

Corrections officers, also sometimes called prison guards, areresponsible for more than just watching prisoners. They also must enforce rulesand maintain order within the facility, supervise all activities of inmates andoffer assistance in the rehabilitation and counseling of convicts. They alsoare charged with inspecting the conditions of the facility, searching inmatesfor contraband items and reporting any inmate misconduct to the prison warden.

Required Education

A minimum of an Associate Degree in Corrections is required towork most entry-level jobs in the field. The two-year program focuses on trainingin problem resolution, accurate record information gathering and maintenance,counseling, establishing rules of conduct and methods to aid in therehabilitation of criminals. Both traditional and online programs are availablefor associate degrees.

Correctional officers who wish to work in state or federalprisons are required to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Corrections. This four-yeardegree will focus on providing graduates with the best methods of working withcriminals in a legal, safe and ethical manner. Bachelor programs often includeboth classroom studies and practical experience. Both online and traditionalclassroom programs are available.

In some instances, prior law enforcement or military experiencecan be substituted for a college degree. Some states also have regionaltraining academies that are used to train correctional officers. The trainingprovided by these academies is based on guidelines established by the AmericanCorrectional Association.

Future Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand forcorrectional officers is expected to increase by 5 percent between now and2020.Population growth is expected to directly contribute to the demand forcorrections officers in the future.

As of May 2010, the median annual salary for correctionalofficers and prison guards was $39,040. The lowest 10 percent of earners modelessthan $26,040 and the top 10 percent earned more than $67,250. Officers withbachelor-level degrees or a combination of education and experience can expectto earn wages on the higher end of the scale. 


Browse Degrees by Subject