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What Are the Duties of a Corrections Officer?

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Corrections officers oversee the conditions of inmates in jails, reformatories and prisons. As managers of a custodial environment, corrections officers must stay vigilant for potential disorder and rules violations, which they must document for supervisors. To ensure their safety, officers must also become proficient in basic investigative, patrol and search methods. Although the job is extremely stressful, officers can advance into management positions, where the custodial aspects are less relevant than superior administrative skills.


Ensuring that jail or prison inmates comply with rules and regulations is a major part of a corrections officer's job. As the institution's eyes and ears, corrections officers supervise inmates' daily activities, keep track of their physical location, and monitor their behavior. To gain compliance and build trust, officers must avoid showing even a hint of favoritism. If any rules are violated, the officer must document the incident and report it for follow-up by administrators.


Corrections officers periodically inspect cells and other areas to ensure adequate sanitation, prevent security breaches and halt the smuggling of contraband, such as weapons or drugs. Officers also inspect mail and visitors to prevent prohibited items from entering the institutional environment. At times, the officer may search inmates for contraband items, as well. If an inmate escapes, corrections officers join local law enforcement officials in the resulting investigation and searches of the institution and surrounding areas.


To maintain order, corrections officers make periodic patrols of inmate quarters and work areas. As part of those efforts, officers will perform head counts of inmates at regular and irregular intervals. The officer also keeps an eye for signs of tension in places where inmates gather in large numbers -- such as auditoriums, food service areas and exercise yards -- and refers them for action by jail or prison administration.


Keeping accurate records of inmate location counts, equipment and supplies is a major ongoing task that corrections officers must perform. When inmates leave a facility, the officer must ensure that all relevant paperwork, including transportation permits, is in order. These functions become more important as jail or prison guards are promoted into management positions -- such as parole and probation officers, or wardens -- that place a greater emphasis on administrative and supervisory skills over the ability to handle a custodial environment.


Some jurisdictions, such as the state of Michigan, specifically assign corrections officers to focus on transporting inmates to courts, jails, medical centers, prisons and other designated locations. Officers performing these duties are responsible for every aspect of the trip, from timing and routing, to planning security precautions, and ensuring compliance with departmental policies. Generally speaking, this type of assignment is only made available to experienced corrections officers.