Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or prison. Typically, offenders serving time at county jails are sentenced to a year or less. Inside the prison or jail, correctional officers enforce rules and regulations. They maintain security by preventing any disturbances, assaults, or escapes. Correctional officers supervise the daily activities of inmates, ensuring that inmates obey the rules and finish their work. Correctional officers are also responsible for knowing where all inmates are.
Officers must search inmates for contraband such as weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline. The officers enforce regulations through effective communication and the use of progressive sanctions, which involve punishments and loss of privileges. Sanctions are progressive, starting out small for a lesser or single offense but becoming more severe for more serious offenses or when repeat offenses occur. In addition, officers may aid inmates in their rehabilitation by scheduling work assignments, counseling, and educational opportunities. Correctional officers periodically inspect facilities. They check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, contraband, signs of a security breach such as any tampering with window bars or doors, and any other evidence of violations of the rules. Officers also inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. They write reports or fill out daily logs detailing inmate behavior and anything of note that occurred during their shift.
Correctional officers may have to restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to escort them safely to and from cells and other areas and to see authorized visitors. Officers also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations.
Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and dangerous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates. Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries. Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy. Correctional officers usually work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, on rotating shifts. Some correctional facilities have longer shifts and more days off between scheduled workweeks. Because jail and prison security must be provided around the clock, officers work all hours of the day and night, weekends, and holidays. In addition, officers may be required to work paid overtime.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of correctional officers is expected to grow by 5 percent between 2010 and 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for correctional officers will come from population growth. However, because of budgetary constraints and a general downward trend in crime rates in recent years, demand will likely grow at a slower rate.
Career information courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Documents on this page are available in Adobe Acrobat Portable Format(PDF). Adobe Reader software can be downloaded for free from Adobe.