How to Become a Correctional Officer

If you think you would be interested in a career enforcing the rules at a jail or prison, you might want to become a correctional officer.


You must be a high school graduate, a U.S. citizen, and at least 18 years old in order to work at a detainment facility. Some institutions may require that you be 21 years of age. If you want to work in a federal prison, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and/or three years of applicable military or law enforcement experience.


To increase your chances of being hired, consider getting your bachelor of science in criminal justice. If your college or university offers a specialty in the area of corrections, you should definitely take advantage of that option. In general, this degree will take four years to complete with required courses including things like law, police work, safety procedures and various correctional practices. 


Along with your education, you’ll have to pass a background check. If you have a felony conviction, you will not be able to work as a correctional officer. Also, if you have any misdemeanor drug convictions or domestic violence charges on your record in the previous five years, you will not be eligible to be hired.

You may also have to pass a drug test and physical since the job will require you to be fit and in good health. In addition, you could be subjected to having your credit checked before you are employed as a correctional officer. Some facilities can even require that job candidates pass either an oral or written exam.


Some states require that their correctional officers attend a four-to-eight-week program at a corrections academy. Usually after correctional officers are hired, they are paid for their training time and remain on probation for a period of one year. During this training, candidates can attain various levels of certification.


If you have a degree and an adequate amount of experience, you should be able to advance to the position of a correction sergeant or warden. These jobs come with additional responsibilities like managing your fellow correctional officers and drawing up schedules. With the appropriate training, you might also be eligible to work as a probation officer or as a counselor.

Different Jobs

You should have the option or working in local, state or federal facilities. A job with the city will require less training and education than a federal position. The pay is often more for individuals who work in a high security position as opposed to a lower security one. In 2010, you can expect the starting pay to range anywhere from $30,000 to $55,000 per year depending on where you work. 


Research the position you are interested in having and make sure you have met all the requirements. Then follow the specified procedures for applying. Some places may require you to fill out an application online, while others may want you to mail a resume and cover letter before inviting you to come in to fill out an application in person.  

Helpful Resource

For more information, check out This website is a great resource for individuals who are looking for all types of law enforcement jobs from police officers and state troopers to security and correctional officers. In addition, you can get information about police training, ask questions of bona fide police officers, watch police videos and read articles written by law enforcement personnel.