Correctional Officer Working Conditions: What to Expect

It is no surprise that the working environments for correctional officers can be stressful and demanding, although many correctional officers find this atmosphere both stimulating and challenging.

Correctional officers must be prepared to accept less-than-ideal working environments and conditions as part of their job and excel despite these challenges:

Shift Work

Correctional workers can expect to work varied, eight-hour shifts, many of which include nighttime and weekend work. Given that many correctional facilities are understaffed and over-populated, may correctional officers engage in frequent, paid overtime.

Physical Conditions

Some of the newer jails and prisons are equipped with adequate lighting, efficient heating/cooling systems, and well-organized spaces, but many of the older facilities are anything but. And, combined with overcrowding problems, working conditions in older facilities can be stressful and even hazardous.

Often times, the physical conditions of a facility can create low morale and a high burnout rate among correctional officers. As such, correctional officers must often make the best of less-than-ideal physical conditions and ensure that they are always focused and on task.

Because of challenging working conditions, successful correctional officers must have a specific set of skills. They must:

  • Enjoy working with others
  • Possess excellent interpersonal skills, such as patience and sensitivity
  • Be self-confident
  • Be assertive and have the ability to resolve conflict
  • Be able to employ stress-reduction techniques as to prevent fatigue and burnout
  • Be physically capable of coping with physical demands of the position
  • Be mentally and emotionally stable as to cope with the pressures of the position
  • Be able to remain calm in stressful situations
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Correctional officers must periodically inspect the facility’s doors, locks, and window bars, always looking for signs of tampering. In older facilities and overcrowded facilities, inspection of the institution’s surroundings is particularly crucial.


When accepting a position with a state correctional agency, correctional officers often agree to transfers when and if the needs of the agency change. As such, stability within this profession is not often a guarantee.