8 Pros and Cons of Being a Correctional Officer (Plus Duties)
Updated February 16, 2023
A career in law enforcement can offer many rewarding benefits for interested candidates. As an important law enforcement branch, correctional officers often provide valuable services to their communities, keeping inmates secure and safe and maintaining the security of public and private detention facilities. If you're considering a role as a correctional officer, it can help to review the benefits and drawbacks of the position to learn if it's an appropriate fit for you and your unique career goals. In this article, we explain what a correctional officer is and list some pros and cons of the role.
What is a correctional officer?
Correctional officers are law enforcement professionals who help ensure inmate safety and security in jails, prisons and detention facilities. They can work for public or private institutions, and most receive weapons and defense training to help prepare them for the role. The qualifications needed to become a correctional officer can vary by state, but typically correctional officers must have either a bachelor's degree or relevant experience, no criminal convictions and meet their state's age requirements.
Here are some common correctional officer responsibilities:
Monitor inmate activity
Maintain order in the facility
Ensure proper adherence to facility rules
Assist in offender rehabilitation efforts
Create reports to assess inmate behavior
Ensure proper facility maintenance
Inspect safety and emergency preparedness
Find and confiscate contraband items
Related: How To Become a Correctional Officer
3 pros of being a correctional officer
Working as a correctional officer can offer many benefits:
One benefit of working as a correctional officer is the activity and excitement the role can offer. In this position, you can expect to work with people from various backgrounds and situations and stay relatively active in your job duties. Because the job requires officers to remain alert for the entirety of their shifts, you can expect to find stimulation and diversity in your job. Working in corrections can help officers develop their physical stamina, decision-making skills and self-discipline.
Another benefit of working as a correctional officer is the value of the work you're providing. In their role, officers ensure the health and safety of the inmates they supervise. Correctional officers can also help inmates on their journeys to rehabilitation, offering advice and guidance to those in vulnerable positions or awaiting trial. Officers have training in defense, security and sometimes counseling. They can use their valuable skills and knowledge to be positive forces within the facilities they work to protect and maintain.
3. Job benefits
While there are opportunities in the private sector, most correctional officer positions are federal, state or local government positions. Working as government employees often means officers can often qualify for earlier retirements, relatively robust pension plans and competitive benefit and insurance packages. Working for the government can offer added job security, competitive compensation and retirement incentives.
5 cons of being a correctional officer
While there are many benefits to a career as a correctional officer, there are some cons too. Learning the drawbacks of the position can help you decide if the career is right for you. Here are some potential obstacles you could encounter as a correctional officer:
One potential drawback of working as a correctional officer is the danger you may encounter in the position. Officers need to be ready to react quickly in case of an inmate dispute or altercation. To properly defend themselves and other inmates, officers sometimes have to use their defense training to immobilize anyone who becomes aggressive. To prepare for these hazards, officers often need to meet basic physical strength requirements and age requirements.
Some inmates are violent offenders, meaning they can pose threats to the officers who supervise them. Officers may have to intervene if a situation escalates and becomes physical. Fights and violence among inmates can be unpredictable, and officers constantly need to remain vigilant so they can hopefully deescalate situations before they turn violent.
2. Work environment
Another potential con of the position is the work environment. While the work correctional officers provide is important, working in incarceration facilities can be challenging. Officers may have to withstand threats or insults, offer support to those who are vulnerable or frustrated and interact with serious offenders. Many incarceration facilities are industrial type buildings, with minimal accommodations, cells, cement floors and strict schedule enforcements. For some, the work environment can cause depression and negative thoughts.
Because the role requires officers to remain alert, some shifts can be stressful or dangerous. Mentally preparing for these job realities may not suit certain personality types.
3. Work hours
Because inmates need constant supervision, correctional officers often have to work night, weekend and holiday shifts to meet facility scheduling needs. Scheduled hours can change each week, depending on the facility and the number of officers. Inconsistent hours may make it challenging to maintain a schedule or healthy sleeping habits.
4. Job requirements
Correctional officers fulfill physical roles where they might have to disarm or defend against threats or attacks. Because of this aspect of the job, many states impose minimal physical and psychological job requirements. Officers often have to pass a written test that assesses their judgment skills and mental acuity, a physical strength test and be young and physically healthy. Some employers also have their officers undergo background checks and psychological evaluations before they can begin work. The job requirements can disqualify some from the role.
To become a correctional officer, candidates often have to complete relatively extensive training programs. While it can depend on the state where you receive your training, most programs take a few months to complete. They typically include defense training, education of regulations and communication training. The training is important for officers to prepare for their positions, but the time and effort it takes to complete the training can be a hindrance for some aspiring officers.
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