In the United States, there are almost 493,100 correctional officers at work in jails, reformatories and prisons. By far, the largest employer of correctional officers is state government with 236,890 correctional officers employed in state penitentiaries. City, county and other municipal governments employed 157,910 correctional officers in jails and secure treatment facilities, while the federal government employed 16,250 correctional officers in federal penitentiaries across the country.
The primary role of a correctional officer is to supervise inmates within correctional facilities at the local, county, state or federal level. In some instances correctional officers double as correctional treatment specialists, and may also provide some level of guidance to prisoners about life decisions or events in their past. The role of counseling in corrections has grown as more prison authorities recognize that the key to stopping the cycle of recidivism requires preventative measures, including a greater level of engagement and treatment options for at-risk offenders.
Correctional Officer Career Information by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Correctional Officers in Minimum Vs Maximum Security Facilities
The majority of correctional officer jobs are found in adult detention facilities. In 2010, there were 2,266,832 prisoners in detention facilities throughout the country, with 206,968 in federal facilities and 1,311,136 in state prisons. Almost 748,728 were found in local or municipal jails. This enormous population of prisoners creates a large number of job opportunities for professionals who wish to serve in a correctional setting.
Minimum Security Correctional Officer – While prisons designated as minimum security have been portrayed as resorts, the truth is these facilities require constant vigilance from staff to ensure that prisoners do not attempt escape.
The majority of prisoners in minimum security are white collar or petty criminals; however, they still present the risk of bodily injury due to constant confinement. Inmates of minimum-security prisons are allowed to work within the community, under constant attention from correctional officers. The security protocols are typically more lax at minimum-security facilities due to the reduced likelihood of escape.
Maximum Security Correctional Officer – Correctional officers in a high security facility utilize a wide range of behavior control procedures including physical barriers, checkpoints, contraband searches and strict scheduling of activities. Although officers who oversee prisoners do not carry firearms, they must be proficient in the use of unarmed combat, pepper spray and batons. Constant environmental awareness is a necessity when working with high-risk populations who are prone to violence, but all prison facilities have protocols that ensure an immediate response to violent outbursts and swift punishment for any threatening behavior towards officers. Lockdown of the facility is a common strategy to compartmentalize inmates and limit further involvement by others.
Unconventional Correctional Officer Career Options
Perimeter Prison Guards – While the majority of prison guards do not carry firearms, the perimeter prison guards who are stationed in the watchtowers do utilize rifles to stop any prisoners attempting to breach the fences and escape. These marksman also provide much needed protection for correctional officers involved in confrontations with inmates. During an attack they may warn other inmates to back off with warning shots, and, in some cases, attempt to stop an attacker with a well-placed shot.
Mobile Correctional Officers – Mobile correctional officers monitor the integrity of fences and assist local law enforcement in tracking and apprehending any fleeing prisoners. These officers provide a constant watch on the fences, grounds and facilities attached to the prison. They alert prison administrators to any disturbances on the grounds that may indicate a compromise in the security of the facility. In the case of an escape, these officers act as first line responders who immediately use dogs, infrared cameras and night vision equipment to search for and capture escaped prisoners.
Juvenile Correctional Officer
With almost 70,000 juveniles incarcerated in the United States, the role of the juvenile correctional officer is an important one. Although the number of juveniles in detention facilities has shrunk since a peak of 107,493, in 1999, the juvenile correctional officer still plays a critical role in improving the lives of teens and adolescents. While adult correctional officers are primarily involved in security and partitioning criminals from the community, juvenile correctional officers are much more focused on educating detainees so that they may be able to re-enter society and build a productive, fulfilling life.
Knowledge of juvenile psychology and counseling are often critical prerequisites for obtaining a job in this field. The ability to communicate with inmates and convince them to seek education, substance abuse treatment, or mental health treatment is crucial to limiting re-incarceration.
One of the greatest rewards for juvenile correctional officers is the knowledge that they made a positive impact in the lives of young people.