The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 434,870 correctional officers working in the United States in 2011 earned an average annual salary of $43,550. Officers in the lowest ten percent of this profession earned up to $27,000, while those in the top ten percent earned salaries of $69,610 on average. Some 26,000 correctional officer jobs are expected to become available in the current decade ending 2020.
With such a large number of jobs expected to pen up, there is considerable variation in salaries. Many professionals may increase their compensation by identifying the most lucrative geographical regions, obtaining strong academic or professional credentials, seeking out the highest paying employers and staying with the same employer for the duration of their careers.
Degrees that Improve a Correctional Officer’s Salary
The majority of correctional officer jobs require only a high school diploma, with some employers like the U.S. Bureau of Prisons requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. Some states may require some college credits or professional experience in social work, law enforcement or community supervision, but this may often be satisfied with a two-year post-graduate degree.
Professionals with a wider skill set in psychology, counseling and behavior management are likely to succeed in this demanding career and rise to the level of supervisor or warden.
The U.S. Department of Labor furnished the information contained in this table, which shows salary data for correctional officers and jailers by state:
Top Paying States and Industries for Correctional Officers
States with larger prison populations and more robust economies tend to pay much higher salaries. The following states paid the highest average annual salaries for correctional officers in 2011:
- New Jersey – $69,310
- California – $66,930
- New York – $61,140
- Massachusetts – $60,700
- Rhode Island – $58,690
California and New York also offer a large number of employment opportunities with 37,210 correctional officers working in California and 32,650 working in New York. These states offer high salaries to attract qualified professionals who are willing to work in stressful environments where there’s a relatively high turnover rate. Therefore, the augmented salary in these states usually reflects additional responsibilities.
The median salaries nationwide for correctional officers working in different industries were as follows:
- Federal government – $54,310
- State government – $38,690
- Local government – $38,980
- Private prisons – $30,460
State and County Vs. Federal Correctional Officer Salaries
There are four primary employers in the United States of correctional officers:
- Federal government
- State government
- Local government
- Private prisons
The highest paying of these agencies is the federal government with an average annual salary of $53,400 in 2011, but the federal government only employs 16,250 officers.
The next highest salary is found at the state level with an average of $44,180; state governments are also the largest employers, with 236,890 correctional officers working in state departments of corrections.
The employer with next highest number of employees is local government with 157,910 correctional officers, which pay an average salary of $42,650.
The salary for correctional officers at private prisons averaged $30,460 with a relatively small number of officers.
How Experience and Other Professional Credentials Affect Salaries
The two most relevant backgrounds that employers look for are military service and law enforcement. The skills learned in high risk, conflict activities typically found in these professions often translate into effectiveness in supervising prisoners. Many state governments are willing to provide employment preferences and salary bonuses to military veterans. In Georgia, veterans may receive a bonus between 2.5 and 10 percent of base salary, depending upon length of time served.
Salary Increases Throughout a Correctional Officer’s Career
One of the greatest factors in salary determination is duration of employment. Depending upon the employer, the salary of a corrections officer may escalate quickly after reaching certain milestones. Although correctional officers at the lowest tiers of the department may not experience dramatic surges in salary, supervisors and managers do enjoy significant bumps in salary after a given period of service. According to Recruiter.com the salary of first line supervisors may rise from $40,000 up to $60,000 depending on length of employment.
In addition to the increased salaries, many long-serving correctional officers also receive additional perks. Most prison facilities allow senior officers to have first pick of assignments, which allows them to choose positions that present less risk of injury. Most states also allow correctional officers to retire more quickly than other civil servants.
An important consideration in determining the overall financial compensation of correctional officers is recognizing the opportunities to add to a base salary through overtime. Due to the high level of turnover in this profession, most prison facilities are understaffed. There is therefore a constant need for officers to work additional hours.
For younger correctional officers without the need for considerable time off, the bonuses from working nights, holidays, meal times, or over the standard 40 hours can contribute to a considerable bonus. In some states, corrections officers report making up to $30,000 in additional salary from overtime.