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5 considerations before you become a correctional officer

If you’re thinking about becoming a correctional officer, here are some things you need to think about first


Control hub. From here, doors can be opened and locked electronically in the entire facility. The jail at the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, Wilber, Nebraska.

Photo Mikael Karlsson/Arresting Images

By Jasmine Howard, C1 Contributor

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, which makes for a prison system that needs a large, fully functioning, and well-trained staff. While there are many jobs and positions throughout the U.S. penal system, correctional officers play one of the most important roles. On a daily basis, they are responsible for taking care of the incarcerated individuals in their custody and maintaining control at the same time.

If you’re considering a criminal justice job, and, in particular, you have your sights set on becoming a correctional officer, here are five considerations you need to weigh before you do so.

1. Do you have what it takes?
Not everyone is cut out to be a correctional officer, and it’s important to accurately assess your own temperament and personality to ensure your eventual and ongoing success in the job. It’s necessary to have a keen sense of and belief in right and wrong and the U.S. justice system. You’ll be working every day in an environment where the justice system has seen fit to deny and restrict people’s basic freedoms.

You also need to be someone with a good measure of patience and a good handle on your emotions. Working as a CO can be stressful, and if you aren’t able to adequately manage how you feel in difficult situations, the job will be hard for you. It’s also essential that you are inherently inclined toward routines and schedule-keeping. Much of being a CO — on a good day when nothing goes wrong anyway — is in performing your duties with the reliability and punctuality of a clock.

2. You’ll need to get educated
While it’s true that some correctional officer positions don’t require a college degree, a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree will greatly aid you in finding work and moving up the career ladder.

Whether you already have a four-year degree and are looking to advance your education with a Master’s of Public Administration or you’re just starting out and wondering what your college major should be if you’re interested in criminal justice, furthering your education is an excellent idea.

3. A day in the life…
When you find work as a CO, your daily work life will take on something of a predictable routine, and it’s important to consider that routine before the job begins. Depending on which shift you work, you’ll clock in on time and immediately get to checking to ensure all the inmates in your charge are where they should be and that nothing is out of place or amiss. If your shift is during the day, you may accompany inmates to and from meals, showers, recreation, or educational classes, taking care to keep everyone, including yourself, safe during these times of transport and group interaction.

When inmates are out of their cells, you’ll conduct thorough searches looking for drugs, contraband, weapons, or other dangerous or illegal items. You’ll also spend time in daily strategy sessions with other COs and your supervisor to discuss any problems, needs, and success stories. Occasionally, you’ll need to break up fights or deescalate a tense situation.

4. The potential danger
Working in the prison system can be dangerous. While correctional officers are trained to protect themselves, the potential to be hurt is very real. If you don’t do well in situations where your physical safety may be threatened at times, it’s likely that this type of job within the criminal justice field isn’t for you.

That being said, COs are well-trained at deescalating conflict and handling it when it arises, so you’ll have skill sets to assist you in tough situations.

5. The challenges
Being a correctional officer comes with a unique set of challenges. Besides working with some very difficult people who may be intent on doing harm to you, themselves, or others around them, there’s also the challenge of remaining positive about society and how prisoners’ lives can change for the better.

Being a correctional officer can be a trying and difficult job, but it’s a necessary one that also offers the rewards that come with maintaining order and offering protection. If you’re considering a job as a CO, weigh these five considerations, so when you pursue your degree, you can feel confident you’ve made the right choice.