What to Expect from a Correctional Officer Job

Correctional Officers are responsible for supervising inmates in penal institutions and guarding prisoners while they are being transported between jails, courtrooms and rehabilitative locations. Also referred to as "detention officers" or "jailers", a correctional officer's job can be described as anything but ordinary. Spend a day shadowing an officer, or listen to the stories from officers in the field, and you will quickly learn that working in corrections is a tough job. Every day spent working in a prison setting, where hundreds or potentially thousands of incarcerated offenders are housed can be both dangerous, stressful and emotionally taxing.

Correctional Officer Tasks and Activities

Correctional Officers must use the skills and knowledge learned during their time in training to protect themselves, inmates, and members of the correctional team from danger posed by prisoners and other health risks. According to reports from the U.S. Department of Labor, officers employed in institutional settings consistently experience some of the highest rates of non-fatal job injuries. Inmate mortality rates due to homicide are also a concern in corrections, as the homicide rate in state prisons rose 24% between 2011 and 2012. Taken together, it is clear that officers must be constantly aware of their surroundings and physically capable of defending themselves. Included here is a list of some of the specific and general tasks that correctional offers must be prepared to complete:

  • Maintain discipline and order among prisoners with the aid of weapons, handcuff and the use of force.
  • Provide counsel and words of instruction to inmates who have legitimate questions and requests.
  • Keep daily logs of prisoner activities, and report any incidents.
  • Conduct searches of inmates and cells for contraband, such as drugs or weapons.
  • Ensure security and prevent escapes by routinely inspecting the condition of locks, doors, gates and window bars.
  • Mediate disputes between inmates
  • Supervise recreational activities and skill building workshops for inmates
  • Investigate crimes committed by inmates within the correctional facility or aid police investigators with information about crimes.
  • Oversee the distribution of clothing or tools to inmates.
  • Escort inmates to and from the correctional facility for appearances in court or transport to other institutions.
  • Screen visitors and keep all facility entrances secure.

Important Job Skills and Knowledge

Newly hired cadets and seasoned professionals receive training on a continual basis in an effort to maintain high levels of operational excellence, adapt to new technologies, and to learn new skills that will aid them in their job. Learning on-the-job as well as participating in organized training is a requirement for all officers, making it part of their job description. Ask any seasoned officer, and they will tell you that inmates are extremely organized- they develop sophisticated methods of communication, test the responses of officers, and in many cases, have no fear of additional punishment- which means that officers must be vigilant and highly prepared for any situation that may confront them. Some of the most important skills and knowledge needed by all correctional officers are listed below:


  • Critical Thinking- Finding solutions to problems and drawing sound conclusions using logic and reasoning.
  • Self-Awareness- Understanding and assessing your own performance in order to improve and make corrections.
  • Active Listening- Taking time to understand what others are saying and giving full attention while someone is speaking.
  • Physical Strength and Agility- The ability to move quickly and powerfully.


  • Psychology- Basic understanding of common human processes of thought and behavior along with identifying and treating behavioral disorders.
  • Operational Security and Public Safety- Having a full grasp of the procedures, policies, equipment, and strategies that are used to keep people, property and facilities safe.
  • Government and Law- Specific knowledge of the laws, regulations, agency rules, and legal codes that govern the rights and responsibilities of officers and inmates.
  • English Language- All officers must be able to speak English, and have a complete understanding of the English language including the proper spelling and meaning of words, grammar, and rules of composition.

Other Frequently Asked Questions