Process to Become a Correctional Officer

The time it takes to become a correctional officer will vary. From working for local prisons which may require only a high school diploma to working for federal prisons that may require a 4-year college degree, it takes serious time commitment to become a correctional officer. On top of this, you are looking at on-the-job training, which may last for weeks, if not months.  All in all, you will need to invest time, effort and money in getting the right education, experience and qualifications to become a correctional officer.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Correctional Officer
How Long Does it Take to Become a Correctional Officer

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What does a correctional officer do?

The job involves supervising prisoners, implementing rules and maintaining order in correctional facilities. Correctional Officers are required to prevent any disturbances, potential assaults and attempts to escape from prisons. They also help in the rehabilitation and counseling of convicts along with supervision of their daily tasks. Correctional officers are also responsible for inspecting prison facilities and making sure they are maintained, suggesting improvements and searching inmates for possession of any illegal items.

How long does it take to become a correctional officer?

Now that you understand the nature of the job of a correctional officer, you would have realized that it requires a certain degree of training and education to be able to work in a prison setting. The job comes with many perils and dangers; therefore it is necessary that you prepare yourself accordingly.

To understand the timeline to becoming a correctional officer, let’s break down the process into the following:

Education (Up to 4 years):

Correctional officers require at least a high school diploma or a GED to be eligible for application. Some state or local prisons might require college credits, but by-and-large, high school diplomas are considered sufficient for entry-level positions.
However, if you are looking for employment in federal prisons, the requirements would be slightly different. Here, a high school diploma may not be enough. You will need at least a bachelor’s degree for an entry level job in federal prisons. Even though any major is considered acceptable, it would be ideal if you get a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, such as criminal justice. This degree would typically take four years to complete.

Training (6 to 12 Months):

Once hired as a correctional officer, you will be required to join a training academy. These programs are offered at the local, state and federal levels via private companies. They are designed to teach correctional officers the operations of their institutions, custody and security policies and other regulations. This training program can last around 6 to 12 months, depending on local laws and policies of the prison you intend to work at.

Experience Requirements (Up to 3 Years):

Even though this is not a compulsory requirement in most cases, it does become necessary for applicants to federal prisons. You would need to have at least three years of relevant and full-time experience if you are applying to work in a federal prison and do not have a bachelor’s degree. This experience can be in fields such as teaching, counseling or supervising. Some non-federal agencies might also have a minimum college education or relevant experience requirement.

On-the-Job Training (200 Hours):

Correctional officers are also required to complete a certain number of hours of on-the-job training. This can last a few weeks or months at local or state facilities. In federal facilities, however, the on-the-job training requirement is at least 200 hours within the first year of employment. Officers are trained in self-defense, firearms use and taught regulations regarding dealing with inmates on a daily basis.

The amount of time required to become a correctional officer is largely dependent on the state you are applying in and the kind of facility you plan on working at. Local prisons might not require a lot of time for entry level positions, but the education, training and experience requirements for federal prisons would need a certain amount of time investment.

Career Advancement Options

For those correctional officers who intend to apply for advanced positions, there are options for continuing education. A professional certification may be earned through the American Correctional Association (ACA), called the Certified Correctional Officer (CCO). Most advancement options would require additional education or experience to get promotions. Officers may get promoted to supervisory roles, such as correctional sergeant – which involves the supervision of other correctional officers and maintaining overall security in the facility. Some officers might even advance to the position of a warden if the relevant qualifications and requirements are met. Correctional officers holding college degrees might have better opportunities for advancement.

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