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- Step 1: Make Sure You’re Suited for a Correctional Officer Career
- Step 2: Look into Correctional Officer Education
- Step 3: Start Applying to Corrections Programs
- Step 4: Complete Your Corrections Coursework
- Step 5: Obtain Certification & Credentials
- Step 6: Write a Winning Resume
- Step 7: Impress During Your Interview
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How to Become a Correctional Officer
Discover the key steps to becoming a correctional officer, from getting the right education to choosing your concentration and landing your first job.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Correctional officers are critical to maintaining order and peace in jails, prisons, and other detention facilities. To be qualified to oversee and manage incarcerated individuals, correctional officers must complete the proper education before starting the job. Although a formal degree is not always required to work in corrections, officers need to undergo in-depth training to handle detainees. Before choosing which level education to pursue, it’s good to evaluate where you want your career to go. To help, we have created this guide to breakdown your options, provide an overview of the career, and help you decide if you have what it takes to become a correctional officer.
Make Sure You’re Suited for a Correctional Officer Career
Working as a correctional officer can be rewarding. However, it’s important to know that you’re cut out for the job before you pursue the education it takes to get there. To see if this is a job for right for you, answer the following questions:
- Do I have good communication and interpersonal skills?
- Do I consider myself to be a very capable individual with enough physical strength to restrain inmates?
- Am I able to read people and effectively assess human behavior?
- Can I pay close attention to detail, including properly following safety protocols and legal requirements?
- Am I able to maintain self-control in highly stressful and even life-threatening situations?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be an excellent fit for a career as a correctional officer.
Does Becoming a Correctional Officer Take a Long Time?
Like many other careers, there are multiple paths to becoming a correctional officer. While it might be tempting to choose the one that takes the shortest amount of time, this may actually result in more time in school, depending on what your ultimate career goals are. For example, a high school diploma is sufficient for many correctional positions, but not if you want to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and have zero relevant work experience.
Let’s take a look at how long it takes to become a correctional officer based on which educational path you choose. Keep in mind that additional training at an academy may be necessary even after finishing one of the below programs.
Certification in Corrections: Six months or less.
Associate in Corrections: Two years
Bachelor’s in Corrections, Criminal Justice, or related: Four years
Master’s in Criminal Justice: One to three years.
Now let’s look at what each path entails and the advantages and disadvantages for each academic credential.
Look into Correctional Officer Education
There are different avenues to becoming a correctional officer, but no matter what route you choose, there are certain skills and concepts you must learn. Some paths include intense courses at a training academy only, while others focus on a certificate, two-year or four-year degree. There’s even a master’s option for those who want to advance their careers to the highest level. Here’s what each post-secondary educational path can do for an aspiring corrections officer.
Types of Training Institutions for Corrections Officers
Once you’ve decided on an educational or training path, see which type of school makes the most sense for you.
Start Applying to Corrections Programs
Working on applications can seem daunting, but when you break down the components needed to apply, it can be very manageable. If there are a few programs you’re particularly interested in, you will need to make sure your application is not only free from mistakes, but presents you in the most positive light possible. Keep the following points in mind.
Complete Your Corrections Coursework
Once you’re accepted to a program, the type of courses you take will vary depending on your level of study. For example, an associate and bachelor’s degree will include a number of electives and coursework unrelated to corrections. A certificate or master’s curriculum will be more abstract, with an emphasis on policy and theory. Here are some of the most common courses you’ll encounter:
- The Basics of Criminal Justice
- Criminal Justice Ethics
- Correctional Legal Issues
- The Juvenile Justice System
- Introduction to Criminology
- Correctional Facilities
- Administrative Issues in Corrections
- The Criminal Legal Process
Obtain Certification & Credentials
Earning a degree isn’t the only way to improve opportunities for professional growth. There are a number of certifications available that allow you to demonstrate mastery of skills and concepts. How to achieve these certifications depends on who offers it, as some are based on tests while others rely on a certain level of work experience. To find out more about meeting a specific level of competency, check out the certification requirements provided by two leading organizations in the corrections field.
American Correctional Association
Certifications from the ACA are obtained by passing an exam, holding an associate or bachelor’s degree, and having a specific amount of experience. A few popular certifications offered by the ACA are as follows:
National Sheriffs’ Association
Similar to the ACA, the NSA requires candidates to pass an exam, obtain a certain amount of work experience, and have a minimum number of courses under their belt. The NSA offers the following certifications:
Write a Winning Resume
The importance of a good resume cannot be understated. Hiring personnel may only look at each resume for a few seconds before making a decision to reject the applicant or extend an interview. With such a limited opportunity to impress, applicants must present themselves as effectively as possible to make the most of those few seconds. This means including only relevant information and dispensing with irrelevant content.
The best resumes explain why the applicant should be hired for the particular job. This includes education, relevant work experience, certifications, prior employers, and job duties. If possible, professional accomplishments should also be listed to improve chances of landing an interview.
To get a better understanding of what format to use and information to include, check out the following online resume samples.
Impress During Your Interview
Once you have your degree, you’ll want to work toward that job you’ve always wanted. Ensure you’re interview ready and properly prepared, as this will be your moment to stand out from other applicants. One way to prepare is to anticipate the questions you may be asked. Here are a few popular ones you’re likely to encounter.
- Have you ever worked with inmates?
- What certifications do you have?
- What de-escalation techniques would you use to prevent a physical altercation?
- How do you stay fit in order to perform the physical activities required in this work environment?
- Describe a time your ethics were tested. How did you handle the situation?
- What are some changes you were able to bring about to improve the way your facility handled inmates?
- What was your most challenging moment as a corrections officer?
- Why a correctional officer and not, say…a police officer?
- Do you have any prior experience in law enforcement or the criminal justice system?