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Jobs in corrections are some of the most challenging in law enforcement. Depending on the type of institution, correctional officer careers revolve around supervision and management of prisoners of all types – from inmates in minimum-security settings who have committed minor offenses related to such things as drug possession, to violent felons serving out life sentences in maximum-security prisons.
Although experience gained on the job is vital to becoming an effective correctional officer, a college education has also proven to be extremely important to understanding the criminal justice system, particularly for those new to the vocation. More often than ever before, new recruits begin careers after attending correctional officer school and gaining an educational background in criminal justice.
Correctional Officer Education Requirements: State and County Vs. Federal
State, County and Municipal Correctional Officers – At the city, county and state levels, correctional officer education requirements vary based on mandates maintained by each state’s department of corrections. State, county and city correctional jurisdictions usually require that correctional officers hold a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, some also mandate that correctional officers complete a stated amount of coursework in corrections or law enforcement at he post-secondary level. Even where requirements for a college education are not expressly stated, it is widely recognized that hiring preference and better starting salaries are granted to candidates with an academic background in a field related to criminal justice
An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in corrections, law enforcement, criminology or one of the human or behavioral sciences can greatly assist a correctional officer in advancing more quickly in his or her career. A degree can also be beneficial to prospective correctional officers who must pass a civil service or similar exam prior to being hired. Correctional officer schools must be accredited colleges or universities.
GS5 Entry-level Correctional Officer with the Federal Bureau of Corrections – Federal correctional officers, who work for the Federal Bureau of Corrections in federal institutions and penitentiaries located throughout the United States, most often have a bachelor’s degree. This allows them to meet eligibility requirements for this entry-level, GS5 position.
Although under federal regulations, the bachelor’s degree may be in any area, a correctional officer degree program in one of the following disciplines is usually the most beneficial to federal correctional officers:
- Law enforcement
- Criminal justice
- Social science
- Social work
- Human behavior
Three years of general work experience may be substituted to fulfill the entry-level educational requirement. This experience must be in a job that placed the candidate in position to be responsible for responding to emergencies, counseling or guidance, or supervising others.
GS 6 Correctional Officer with the Federal Bureau of Corrections – The educational requirement for a GS6 level correctional officer may be waived for applicants who have one year of specialized work experience in jobs that involve apprehending lawbreakers, supervising individuals in a confined facility, or responding to domestic disturbances.
Federal Correctional Officers in Supervisory Roles – For those who are seeking a higher-level job as a federal correctional officer, nine graduate hours of college education is necessary. This education must be from an accredited college or university and be in one of the following fields:
- Criminal justice
- Social science
- Law or a related discipline
Training: Practical Education for New Correctional Officer Recruits
At all jurisdictional levels – city, county, state and federal – formal academy training is required of new correctional officers recruits:
State, County and Municipal Correctional Officers – A state-sponsored program lasting three to six weeks in length is the norm for city, county or state level correctional officer training. In many cases training takes place at the state’s police academy.
Federal Bureau of Corrections Training – Federal correctional officer training is sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Corrections and lasts for three weeks. New recruits receive their training at the federal penitentiary or correctional complex to which a correctional officer is assigned as well as at the Federal Law Enforcement Center in Glynco, Georgia.
General Training Components Applicable to all Correctional Officers – On-the-job orientation training at a correctional officer’s assigned facility is standard for correctional officers across the board. Training for all types of correctional officers usually includes courses in the following areas and specialized skills:
- Policies and procedures
- Criminal justice system orientation
- Classification of inmates
- Interpersonal and tactical communication
- Record keeping and reporting
- Emergency procedures
- First aid/CPR
- Physical conditioning