Correctional Officer: Education Requirements & Career Info

Oct 20, 2021

Correctional officers enforce rules and maintain order while overseeing individuals who have been arrested. Although educational requirements vary, they are typically required to possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Individuals who want to advance in this career may consider postsecondary coursework towards a degree in criminal justice or sociology.

Essential Information

Correctional officers are law enforcement professionals who monitor incarcerated inmates and maintain order at state penitentiaries, county jails or federal prisons. There are multiple choices in education and training for those wishing to enter this career. Some state and local agencies will hire someone with a high school diploma, while federal jobs call for a bachelor's degree or relevant experience. After being hired, correctional officers may be required to complete a training program at a government academy, followed by a period of on-the-job training.

Required Education High school diploma or the equivalent; other requirements vary by agency
Other Requirements Government training academy for state and federal officers, age requirements, background check, work experience
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029)* -7% for correctional officers and jailers
Mean Salary (2020)* $52,340 for correctional officers and jailers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Educational Requirements for a Correctional Officer

All correctional officers must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Depending on the type of career sought, prospective correctional officers may want to consider a postsecondary education. Federal employers require that all correctional officers have either a 4-year college degree, three years of experience in a relevant field or some combination of education and experience. On the other hand, state and local employers generally don't require any postsecondary education if candidates have some previous relevant work experience.

Prospective correctional officers may want to consider earning a college degree in criminal justice or sociology. Criminal justice majors may take courses in crime and delinquency, criminal law and public management. Sociology majors can expect their curricula to include classes in race and ethnicity, sociology of deviance and popular culture.

Training Requirements

Once they are hired, federal and state correctional officers receive formal training at government training academies. Federal officers must complete 120 hours of special training in the first 60 days of work and then 200 hours of formal training within their first year of work. Some local correctional agencies also provide formal training but may utilize state facilities to do so.

Following the formal training period, correctional agencies then provide new hires with additional training on the job. While the type of on-the-job training varies between agencies, subjects that are taught may include relevant laws, firearms usage and self-defense tactics.

Additional Requirements for a Career in Corrections

Many employers administer a written exam, a background check and a drug test for job candidates prior to making a hiring decision. Employers may require candidates to meet minimum age requirements, usually between 18 and 21 years old. Federal agencies require officers to be appointed before they turn 37. New hires must also be U.S. citizens or possess a green card and have no felony convictions.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers and jailers could expect to see a decline in job growth from 2019-2029. Shorter prison terms and decreases in crime may be reasons behind this decline job growth. Correctional officers and jailers made a mean salary of $52,340 per year in May 2020.

Correctional officers ensure incarcerated individuals abide by the rules. Although a high school diploma is a standard educational requirement, federal employers require a bachelor's degree and prior related work experience. The average salary for correctional officers and jailers was about $52,000 in 2020.

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