Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Becoming a Prison Guard: Challenges, Opportunities, Rewards
Corrections is an integral part of the criminal justice system in the United States. Individuals who are awaiting trial or who have been found guilty of a crime are often incarcerated both as a punishment and as a way to protect the safety of the public. Prison guards maintain order in these facilities while also performing administrative tasks. If you are interested in a career in criminal justice, working in corrections may be a good option for you. While this may be considered a nontraditional career for working mothers, the ability to work night and weekend hours can provide some flexibility when setting up a household schedule.
Prison guards, also known as corrections officers and "COs," staff correctional facilities, including jails and prisons. Guards secure the perimeter of the jail or prison, enforce rules and regulations within the facility, and supervise inmate activities. A corrections officer also performs administrative tasks such as processing paperwork for incoming and outgoing inmates, as well as filing reports on inmate conduct, approving visitors, and ensuring that the health and safety of inmates are protected.
According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'll need at least a high school diploma or a GED to apply for a job in county or state facilities. Corrections officers in federal prisons must have either a bachelor's degree or be able to document one to three years of relevant, full-time job experience. If you are hired as a corrections officer, you'll enter an academy program to train. After graduation, you'll be under close supervision as you become more familiar with the facility, the inmates and your job duties.
The median annual wage for corrections officers and jailers in the United States is $42,820 as of May 2016, though there are significant differences in compensation depending on the type of government facility in which you work:
- Federal: $54,720
- State: $42,700
- Local: $42,350
The lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $28,500 annually. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $74,630.
The many different types of correctional facilities include minimum security "camp" environments as well as highly structured maximum-security prisons. As a corrections professional, you'll need to be aware that you are working in what is often a dangerous environment. Working as a prison guard requires remaining alert, staying in compliance with facility regulations and being prepared for serious incidents to occur. Still, however, some correction officers do report genuine job satisfaction when they are able to assist an inmate in taking the steps necessary to turn his or her life around.
The majority of prison guards in the U.S., 54 percent, work for state corrections systems. Thirty-seven percent work for local governments, and 4 percent work for the federal government.
Years of Experience
According to a survey conducted by PayScale.com, prison guards can expect their income to rise as they gain more job experience. The median salaries of survey respondents broken out by the number of years they've spent on the job:
- 0‒5 years' experience: $34,000
- 5‒10 years' experience: $39,000
- 10‒20 years' experience: $44,000
- 20+ years' experience: $48,000
Job Growth Trend
According to the BLS, employment opportunities for corrections officers is mixed. Prison guard employment is expected to decline by 7 percent between 2016 and 2026. Multiple factors are contributing to this decline: A shortage of public funds has made it difficult to safely house inmates for long periods of time. Also, changes in laws and corrections best practices have resulted in a shift toward shorter or alternative sentences. However, the BLS predicts that your ability to find a job in this industry will remain good, as the need for recruits will remain as corrections officers retire or leave their jobs for new careers.
Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.