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How to Become a Correctional Officer?

how to become a correctional officer

A correctional officer’s role is to enforce rules on citizens in both jail and prison. They supervise citizens who have been arrested for a crime and awaiting trial or who have already been sentenced and are serving time in jail, rehabilitation centers, juvenile detention, or prison.

If you are thinking about pursuing a career as a correctional officer, you must prepare for extensive training. You must also be mentally and emotionally stable, as it can be challenging work. One appealing factor of this job is that you don’t need any qualifications or a university degree for an entry-level position. There is more focus on the on-the-job training, learning skills in the academy, and training on-site with other recruits.

So, let’s take a look at How to Become a Correctional Officer and what it entails.

how to become a correctional officer

What Does A Correctional Officer Do?

In prison or jail, a correctional officer is responsible for enforcing rules on inmates. They must perform the same daily routines and keep the prisoners safe and in order. Supervise daily activities, meal times, shower time, and visiting hours. They are also responsible for searching for inmate contraband such as knives, drugs, and alcohol.

The roles can vary as a correctional officer. For example, the hiring manager may assign you to a low-security women’s prison or send you to work in a maximum security facility with death row inmates. Correctional officers must deal with the following;


Correctional officers must punish inmates if they have done something wrong inside the prison. For example, if they were caught stealing food, fighting with another inmate, a correctional officer, or being caught with contraband.

Depending on the severity of the problem, their punishments will differ. Correctional officers should know the extent of the problem and issue the punishment accordingly. This could be anything from missing recreational time or privileges to being sent to solitary confinement for a period of time.


Officers are also required to check inmates’ cells often for contraband, unsanitary conditions, unusual activity like broken walls, or changes in the cell bars.

These searches can be pre-warned or can be completely unexpected. Officers are then required to fill out any paperwork or report any items they have found. If an inmate has been found with contraband, it is up to the correctional officer to issue a punishment accordingly.


Communication between inmates is key. Often the most successful correctional officers create respectful relationships between inmates, but be careful; it’s not a friendship.

In many situations, officers will be tested on their emotional abilities. Inmates are known to throw feces, spit, and verbally abuse officers. Handling these situations requires excellent communication skills and keeping your cool.

Escaped Prisoners

In an instance where a prisoner manages to escape jail or prison, you must assist the authorities with finding the inmate. You must also find out why the inmate escaped and try to keep it from happening again.


Depending on the place of work, there are options to work in a variety of jails and prisons. Whether state or federal, there are also options for correctional officers to work in rehabilitation centers.

Often these centers are made up of inmates who have addiction problems and want to change the path of their lives. Rehabilitation centers place inmates who are nearing their release date. These environments are usually less stressful and have a lower security level. Assisting with inmates’ rehabilitation can be a rewarding role.

How To Become A Correctional Officer?

To become a correctional officer in the United States, you must be a US citizen or hold a permanent legal resident eligible for citizenship and are currently in the application process.

Age Requirement

Depending on the state you live this can vary. Some states require you to be 21 to begin academy training. This does mean you can apply when you are 20 years old, as long as you are 21 when the training begins. Other states allow you to begin training at the age of 18.

Educational Background

As previously stated, many job opportunities do not require you to have a bachelor’s degree. Most positions only ask for a high school GED and the appropriate training.

However, if you are looking to go into rehabilitation or look to progress to higher roles within the field, you may require a degree in psychology, counseling, or training as a rehabilitation expert. There is a test you have to take before acceptance into the academy. The test will require reading comprehension and maths skills, so make sure to practice those beforehand; I’ll touch on that later…

Personal History Statement

When the application process begins, you will be subjected to an investigation into your past employment, acquaintances, and residences. This ensures that you are an ideal candidate with no past problems. Applicants will be invited to an interview to include any information that may cause issues in the hiring process. Once the information is cleared, candidates must then go through psychological screening.

The Hiring Process

The hiring process can differ from state to state, but it’s very similar. Let’s take a look at the hiring process for California. California is second to Texas, with the highest prison population. The golden state homes 122,417 prisoners, according to the world population review.

The Seven Steps Application Process

1 Apply for a Job

You can find job posts through a simple Google search. Job sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor offer a wide range of listings. You can also apply through the California State of Corrections website.

2 Written Examination

You will have the choice to complete the written exam online or at a test center. 83% of people pass the written exam. You must pass this to move on to the next stages of the hiring process. You will receive updates via email about your application, so remember, always check your inbox!

3 Physical Test

Like in other demanding professions such as working for the police department or fire department, CO’s must pass a physical test. The test will evaluate your strength, agility, and endurance. You must complete a set of fitness tasks in 5 minutes to pass. 83% of people pass this test as well.

Once you complete it, you are onto the next stage. If you exercise a couple of times a week and are in good health, you shouldn’t have to worry about passing this.

Start training now!

If you do not exercise, it would be a good idea to pick up those kettlebells and get started three months before your physical test date. This will give you the best opportunity to pass.

Candidates are put through fitness tests to ensure they can keep up with the job’s demands. Officers will be required to run, lift heavy objects and stand on their feet for long periods. It may well be something like this Youtube video.

how to become the correctional officer

4 Background Investigation

Before becoming a CO, you need to have a clean record, and the academy will check through your past. This ensures you are the right match for the role and don’t have any past or ongoing issues. It takes around 90 days to complete the background check, but some will be quicker if CO’s are in demand. You must have a clean record and have no previous convictions. You must also be legally allowed to own or possess a firearm.

5 Psychological Exam

The psychological exam will include a written paper where you answer questions; this helps determine if you are suited for the role. You will also interview with a psychologist and discuss how you will perform in the field.

Interviews may take place via video call due to the ongoing pandemic. If you have an interview in person, remember to bring all your documents and dress in business attire. A psych exam is there to make sure you have no personality traits that will clash with the required job role. The examiner wants to rule out any noticeable mental disturbance that would not be compatible with the job.

6 Medical Exam

Your medical exam will include a vision test. In most states, if an applicant’s vision isn’t 20/20, they must require a written certificate from an optician to say that their vision is correctable.

They will also screen blood work, hearing test, respiratory mask fitting, TB screening, and a urine test to search for any traces of drugs. This all seems a lot, but it can be completed in one day, and the results don’t take too long.

7 Certification

Finally, after the process is complete, you will have a certificate allowing you to work as a correctional officer. You will be then assigned to an academy to begin your training. Depending on the state you live in, the academy training can differ.

California offers a 13-week training program testing CO’s strength and abilities. The academy also gives you life skills and how to deal with conflicting situations on the job. The instructors are usually longtime correctional officers who have seen it all.

Top 20 Interview Questions For Correctional Officers

1 Why do you want to be a correctional officer?

2 What qualities should a correctional officer have?

3 What are your strengths and weaknesses?

4 Have you ever committed a crime?

5 Have you done any physical training to prepare you for the role?

6 Do you have experience as a correctional officer?

7 What do you think are the biggest challenges for a correctional officer?

8 Do you like to work with others?

9 What was one major challenge you faced in a previous role? How did you handle it?

10 How will you handle an aggressive inmate?

11 What kind of mindset should you have for this role? Can you give some examples?

12 What is the importance of prison facilities?

13 Working as a correctional officer is stressful. How would you handle the stress that comes with the job?

14 What steps would you take if an inmate escapes under your supervision?

15 Where do you see yourself in five years?

16 Do you believe routine is important in the prison system? Why?

17 What would you do if several inmates threatened you?

18 As a CO, you have to be aware of your environment and maintain constant awareness. Tell me about a time you used your observation skills to prevent or resolve a problem.

19 Can you handle yourself physically when you are needed to do so?

20 Have you ever used physical force to maintain order?

How Much Money Do Correctional Officers Make?

There are over one million prisons in the USA. The US holds the record for most incarcerated individuals worldwide. Correctional officer roles are projected to decline by 7% from now to 2030. However, there are around 35,000 job posts annually searching for COs.

A correctional officer can make a good living and enjoy the benefits of the job, such as health insurance and state pensions. An annual salary for a corrections officer is between $38,000 and $53,000. Another appealing part of the role is you can retire at the young age of 50 with 20 years of employment. Or at any age, if you have worked in the service for 25 years.

Read more: Can a Felon Become a Sovereign Citizen?

Looking To Work In Forensics?

If you’re looking further into law enforcement, try our Police Officer Job Description and Police Officer Interview Questions. We also recommend you read up on Can A Felon Become A Correctional Officer if you do have a criminal record.

Or, perhaps you’d like to know How To Become A Detective, How To Become A CIA Agent, and even our Crime Scene Investigator Job Description, which I think could be very exciting!

Alternatively, the world of forensics is said to be fascinating if you have a passion for it. So, why not check out How To Become A Crime Scene Investigator: The ULTIMATE Career Guide to becoming a Scenes Of Crime Officer (SOCO), or Death Investigators Handbook: A Field Guide To Crime Scene Processing, Forensic Evaluations, And Investigative Techniques.

We also highly recommend reading up on Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator, or Practical Crime Scene Processing and Investigation, and even the FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics: The Authoritative Guide to Navigating Crime Scenes all available online in 2023.

Final Thoughts

There are many steps to becoming a correctional officer, and it is a tough line of work.

You have to be mentally stable and physically fit to support the job demands. There are great benefits to becoming a CO, but there are also many dangers involved. The job role is rewarding can be rewarding even if you only help one person turn their lives around.

Remember, check the age requirements in your state before applying for any role.

Good luck with your new job as a Correctional Officer!

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