While many job openings may be limited due to changes in the economy, correctional officers or prison guards are almost always in high demand and present a viable career path for people passionate about criminal justice.With so many prison facilities on the state and federal level, finding out what exactly the requirements are can be tricky. Each route to becoming a prison guard has its pros and cons and it is important to understand the best path to take based on your situation and what you want to accomplish.
While requirements differ slightly from state to state, the major requirements are universal. To make an informed decision, one must look at the requirements for both state and federal guards.
State guard requirements $39,020
High School or GED
High School or GED
Becoming a state prison guard requires less education. However, this often means a state guard receives a lower salary and working conditions can be more hectic than at the federal level. According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010 state guards earned a median salary of $ 38,600. In some states, for example, candidates must meet the following requirements to become a state correctional officer:
- be at least 18 years old
- High School Diploma or GED
- not have been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
- never been convicted of a felony
- never been convicted of a drug-related offense
- never been convicted of an offense involving domestic violence
- cannot have had a Class A misdemeanor conviction within the past 10 years
- cannot have had a Class B misdemeanor conviction within the past 5 years
- cannot be on probation for any criminal offense
- cannot have any criminal charges pending or have an outstanding warrant
Some candidates are often offered sign-on bonuses and must pass physical and crisis management tests as well as complete a paid training. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and many other states offer training programs through local colleges if location is not convenient for the candidate.
Federal guard requirements
For candidates looking for more upward mobility and a higher pay ceiling, becoming a Federal Corrections Officer may be a more suitable alternative. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Federal officers earn a median pay of $54,310 annually. The following steps are required to become a Federal prison guard:
- Have a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited school, or the equivalent of at least three years of full-time general experience performing duties such as providing assistance, guidance, and direction to individuals, counseling individuals, responding to emergency situations, supervising or managing, teaching or instructing individuals.
- Be able to supervise others, communicate verbally, and react in crisis situations.
- Be no older than 36 years of age.
- Pass an extensive background check similar to state requirements.
While meeting educational requirements, fulfilling training obligations and being qualified to work as a prison guard are necessities to be able to do the work, it is equally important to have an understanding of what the day-to-day activities of a corrections officer entail. Work as a prison guard offers one of the the most direct ways to make positive change in the world and in people who need it the most. The following are some of the duties one can expect as a correctional officer:
- Monitor inmates arrested and awaiting trial
- Monitor inmates serving sentences
- Maintain order and protect life and property
- Counsel inmates on adjustment to institutional life
- Model proper behavior
- Supervise work activities
- Transport inmates between facilities
- Actively search and maintain an environment free of dangerous items such as drugs, weapons and/or other contraband
- Maintain concise written reports of daily activities, especially events outside of the norm
- Inspect mail and anything visitors carry into the facility to prevent the spread of contraband
For those with a passion for criminal justice, a career as a prison guard offers a position in high demand with job security and perhaps most important, the chance to make positive change in people who need it most. For anyone looking for meaningful, fulfilling work with an impact on society, this career is well worth investigating.