Correctional Officer  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotCorrectional 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.

dotThe 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.

dotEntry-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

dotOfficers 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 for inmates.

dotPrisons 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.

dotGood 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.

dotThose 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 well either."

dotThe 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."

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.


At a Glance

Work inside prisons to supervise inmates and to maintain security

  • Work hours are around the clock
  • Physical fitness is required
  • Newly hired corrections officers take several months of intensive training