Correctional officers work inside prisons to maintain security, observe
inmate conduct and behavior and prevent disturbances and escapes. They monitor
inmates' activities -- everything from working and exercising to eating and
bathing. They also search inmates for weapons or drugs and settle disputes.
Other jobs, depending upon the level of security at the prison, include
monitoring specific cell blocks, working in towers and inspecting locks and
window bars for tampering.
The goal of their work is to actively encourage and assist offenders to
become law-abiding citizens. Officers don't just oversee inmates. They interact
with them in a meaningful way, taking the time to get to know them.
Entry-level correctional officers spend most of their workdays on security
duties. These include:
- Patrolling by car and on foot
- Staffing control posts
- Counting and escorting offenders
- Searching for contraband, such as weapons and drugs
- Responding to emergencies
Officers with more experience and training may take responsibility for
a number of offenders as well as limited security functions. They work closely
with case management officers, who set up and implement correctional plans
Prisons are open for business all the time. That means correctional officers
must work around the clock as well. Many prisons operate on a revolving schedule.
That means that officers will work day, night and overnight shifts for several
weeks at a time during the course of a year.
Other prisons assign the late-night shifts to junior officers. Officers
also work holidays, weekends and other days that everyone else seems to have
off, usually on a rotating or seniority basis.
Good physical condition is required for this field. "The job is fairly
demanding. You do have to be able to handle stress, and maximum-security facilities
can be more stressful than others," says Mike Hale. He is an assistant warden
at a maximum-security prison.
Those who succeed at this career are people who are not fearful and can
handle stress well. "But it's a safe job. And if you don't think so, you're
not going to last long," says Hale.
"If you're high-strung and nervous, you're just not going to make it. But
at the same time, if you're completely insensitive you're not going to do
The number of women working as correctional officers has risen as more
women enter the penal system. Even in a male-only institution, women are hired.
"We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of employment opportunities
for women -- [they now account for] about 20 to 30 percent of our staff,"
Hale says. "There was a lot of resistance to women coming into the system,
but that's since passed."