Requirements to Become a Correctional Officer

Correctional Officers are the law enforcement personnel responsible for supervising prisoners, ensuring that all prison rules are being followed and keeping state, local and federal correctional facilities secure. Their working conditions may be difficult and highly stressful; therefore you need to fulfill an extensive set of requirements to become a correctional officer.

The following guide will give you a detailed look in the basic minimum requirements, educational and training requirements, along with the application process requirements.

Requirements to Become a Correctional Officer
Requirements to Become a Correctional Officer

Minimum Requirements

The following requirements are subject to variation according to state:

  • Candidates must be US citizens
  • They should be at least 18-21 years old (some states have a minimum age requirement of 18, while others have 21 as the set standard)
  • Candidates must possess a high school diploma or a GED
  • Applicants should not have felony conviction
  • They should possess a valid driver’s license
  • Candidates should be in a good physical and mental shape

Education Requirements

The basic education that you need to have for entry level positions as correctional officers is a high school diploma or a GED. Even though most states do not require qualifications above this level, it is common knowledge that a higher degree can lead to better career prospects. Some states or particular correctional institutions might require you to get college level education.

Those aspiring officers who plan on working at the federal level will be required to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. They may go for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, police studies or any other law enforcement field. They are encouraged to take courses in constitutional law, criminal investigations, peacekeeping, etc.

Candidates can also choose to go for a two-year long associate degree or a certification program that may take less than a year to complete. However, while certifications are good stepping stones for career development, they do not offer knowledge as broad as a bachelor’s or an associate degree.

In some cases, this educational requirement may be waived off if the candidate has prior military experience.

Selection Process Requirements

After you have met the minimum requirements and the educational criteria, there are certain things you need to be aware of before you enter the selection process. This process would require you to be successful in the following areas:

Written Exam:

After you have submitted your application, you will be sent a notification for a written exam. This exam will evaluate your skills in English language and math, including grammar, spelling and reading comprehension. The length of the exam would vary according to the local laws. For instance, in California, it is a one hour and forty-five minutes exam.

Physical Fitness Test:

Since the job requires you to perform multiple physically demanding activities, the physical fitness test is one of the most difficult and important components of the selection process. You will be required to perform tasks such as running 500 yards, running up and down a flight of stairs, completing a small obstacle course and some weight related exercises.
Candidates who work out on a regular basis might not need extra training in this section, but for those who don’t usually work out, it is important to get into good shape before getting to this stage of the selection process.

Background Check:

The background check is done to ensure that you are of a good moral and ethical character. Your past employment records will be checked, along with your financial history, criminal records, relationships, etc. Your past employers, educational institutions and other agencies might be contacted to obtain information about you.

Vision Test:

This will check your visual acuity and color vision. Exact specifications of the minimum requirement may vary from state to state. For instance, in California, if a candidate does not have a 20/20 vision in each eye, he/she is required to submit a written certification from an optometrist that the vision is correctable to 20/20 in each eye.

Psychological Exam:

This will determine your psychological health to serve as a correctional officer and deal with the pressures associated with the job.

Medical Exam:

This would be a comprehensive medical exam carried out by a licensed physician to determine the candidate’s overall physical condition.

Eligible for Hire:

After all these requirements are met, qualifying candidates are placed on a certification list and become eligible to be appointed as a correctional officer.

Bear in mind that these requirements are subject to vary according to the state you are in. So make sure you check local information before beginning the process for application and selection.

Training Requirements

Correctional officers are required to complete a formal training session at a local academy, which includes classes in law and order, criminal rights, communication, etc. Trainees would also receive hands on training in the use of firearms, prisoner restraint and transportation, among other subjects.

The training requirements would vary according to the level you are applying at. For instance, federal correctional officers typically need to complete an intense training session in the first year of employment. For instance, 200 hours of general education, along with 120 hours of skill building, self-defense and endurance training are required to be completed at The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Glynco, GA.