Correctional Officer

The primary responsibility of maintaining law and order within the prison institutions falls upon the role of the correctional officer. The officer's objective is to maintain jail security and accountability of an inmate's action against a disturbance, a riot, or an escape by enforcement of the institution's rules and regulations. The primary objective is to enforce discipline within the prison before there can be an outbreak of violence. The monitoring of an inmate's daily routine and the supervising of his work assignments is just one of the correctional officer's ongoing tasks that can prevent prisoner unrest within the system.

Although the visual prison observations are the correctional officer's major role, there must also be an oral and written account journal prepared by the officer that carefully documents an inmate's conduct and whereabouts on a daily basis. This reporting and documenting of any infractions by an inmate is the first order of duty by the correctional officer.

Surprisingly, a correctional officer must work within the prison cell block unarmed, supervising and observing with only a communication device in hand that is used to call for help in the case of an emergency. The officer is generally prohibited from carrying a firearm or a weapon of any kind in the case that an inmate was to get possession of the firearm in an assault. Typically, the officer will work in tandem with another partner in the supervision of multiple inmates, where enforcement of the rules and regulations is handled through an officer's own set of interpersonal skills in social communications.

In the case of high security prisons, the correctional officer maintains inmate surveillance from the confines of an enclosed control center where activity within the cell block is monitored by closed-circuit cameras and television monitors. A correctional officer's role also extends to the necessity of escorting prisoners to and from the cell, to the courtroom, for medical treatment, or to other destinations that may be within or outside the prison facility gates.

The work of a correctional officer is at times both mentally challenging, in terms of stress when dealing with potentially dangerous criminals, and hazardous, where an officer can be injured by an assault from an inmate. The role of the correctional officer is an important part of the criminal justice system, where law and order is maintained inside the prison walls and gates.

Explore the Possibilities as a Correctional Officer

If you are interested in working within corrections and the penal system, you may enjoy a high-energy career as a correctional officer. As a corrections officer, you will have myriad responsibilities, including keeping law and order among convicted criminals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals frequently sustain on-the-job injuries due to the inherent hazards of working with convicted criminals. Maintaining their security, safety, and well-being requires a special individual who is physically fit, communicates effectively, and has completed all the training required to perform the job competently.

Most of the time, corrections officers remain within the walls of the prison, jail, or court system while performing their duties. Correctional officers within the court system are also known as pretrial detention officers, which is not the same as a bailiff. The pretrial detention officer is responsible for the accused up until their sentencing. After sentencing, if the accused individual is convicted, the corrections officer takes over. If the accused is sentenced to probation, the probation officer takes over the case.

Officers within the correctional system are commonly referred to as prison guards. This is not an entirely inaccurate statement, in that the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the guards end at the prison walls. The exception to this rule is that where convicts go, so go their officers. If a convict requires medical attention, treatment, or therapy outside of the prison, the corrections officer stays by the convict's side or in close proximity. It then becomes the officer's responsibility to ensure that the convict's new environment is secure. Use of restraints may be necessary, as in an emergency room where a convict undergoing treatment could easily slip out of sight in the confusion.

Although keeping guard over prisoners sounds like a succinct job description, it is also extremely generalized. Correctional officers must oversee even the most common of duties. They may check incoming and outgoing mail daily and complete unscheduled inspections of cells and the facility to check for contraband and vulnerabilities. They may stand outside for hours monitoring the progress of various work details or use disciplinary action when conflicts erupt.

The level of education required to work in corrections varies by employer. At the county and state levels, some institutions accept work experience, such as law enforcement or prior military service, in lieu of a college education. Others may only accept candidates with at least an associate-level degree in criminal justice or criminology. Job competition is keen at the federal level and candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field. Furthermore, you must be at least eighteen to twenty-one years of age, be a U.S. citizen, and have a clean record without any convictions or felonies to work in corrections. You may be required to pass a physical and written exam, depending on the requirements set by the state where you reside.

Typically, candidates for correctional employment are sent to a state-mandated training program for corrections officers. Also called the academy, these programs vary in length and content, but some can require up to 120 hours of training before starting an on-the-job orientation. Topics covered may include security, rehabilitation, safety, first aid, CPR, firearms and other weapons certifications, restraint, and transport.

The job outlook and opportunities for advancement are growing in this field, propelled by rising crime rates and overflowing prison systems. Correctional officers with a modicum of experience can apply for a promotion to sergeant or can train to join specialized teams, such as prison tactical response teams. These team members may be deployed in case of a violent outbreak, an attempted escape, or even when moving violent offenders between penal systems.

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