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Correctional Officers - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Qualified officers may advance to the position of correctional sergeant. Correctional sergeants supervise correctional officers and usually are responsible for maintaining security and directing the activities of other officers during an assigned shift or in an assigned area. Ambitious and qualified correctional officers can be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions all the way up to warden. In some jurisdictions, corrections officers are given the opportunity to “bid” for a specialty assignment, such as working in correctional industries, correctional health or correctional counseling, and receive additional training. Promotion prospects may be enhanced by attending college. Officers sometimes transfer to related jobs, such as probation officer, parole officer, and correctional treatment specialist.

Employment
Correctional officers and jailors held about 454,500 jobs in 2008, while first-line supervisors and managers of correctional officers held about 43,500 jobs. An additional 20,200 workers were employed as bailiffs. The vast majority of correctional officers and jailors and their supervisors were employed by State and local government in correctional institutions such as prisons, prison camps, and youth correctional facilities.

Job Outlook
Employment growth is expected to be as fast as the average for all occupations, and job opportunities are expected to be favorable.

Job Growth
Employment of correctional officers is expected to grow 9 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Increasing demand for correctional officers will stem from population growth and rising rates of incarceration. Mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced parole for inmates are a primary reason for increasing incarceration rates. Some States are reconsidering mandatory sentencing guidelines because of budgetary constraints, court decisions, and doubts about their effectiveness. Some employment opportunities also will arise in the private sector, as public authorities contract with private companies to provide and staff corrections facilities. Both State and Federal corrections agencies are increasingly using private prisons.

Job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be favorable. The need to replace correctional officers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force, coupled with rising employment demand, will generate job openings. In the past, some local and State corrections agencies have experienced difficulty in attracting and keeping qualified applicants, largely because of low salaries, shift work, and the concentration of jobs in rural locations. This situation is expected to continue.

Earnings
Median annual wages of correctional officers and jailers were $38,380 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,660 and $51,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,110. Median annual wages in the public sector were $50,830 in the Federal Government, $38,850 in State government, and $37,510 in local government. In the facilities support services industry, where the relatively small number of officers employed by privately operated prisons is classified, median annual wages were $28,790.

Median annual wages of first-line supervisors/managers of correctional officers were $57,380 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,740 and $73,630. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,970. Median annual wages were $57,050 in State government and $57,300 in local government.

Median annual wages of bailiffs were $37,820 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,730 and $51,470. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,750, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,500. Median annual wages were $32,690 in local government.

In March 2009, the average salary for Federal correctional officers was $53,459. Federal salaries were slightly higher in areas where prevailing local pay levels were higher.

In addition to typical benefits, correctional officers employed in the public sector are usually provided with uniforms or a clothing allowance to purchase their own uniforms. Civil service systems or merit boards cover officers employed by the Federal Government and most State governments. Their retirement coverage entitles correctional officers to retire at age 50 after 20 years of service or at any age with 25 years of service. Unionized correctional officers often have slightly higher wages and benefits.

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