Money tips for corrections officers: A chat with 2 guys who've been there
Learn how much money you can expect to make, and how to spend it wisely
This article, originally published June 2011, has been updated with the newest CO pay statistics.
To get a good idea of how COs just getting into the business should manage their money, I spoke with recently-retired union official Manny Borquez and former Supermax warden Bob Hood. Borquez was Regional Vice President for Council Locals 33. Borquez just stepped down from a 21 year career which started as a CO as a GS-6 and ended up at FCI Sheridan as a Counselor at Chapel. Hood was warden of Supermax for three years.
Here's what the corrections professionals had to say.
C1: What is the biggest mistake a young CO just starting out can make?
Borquez: I've seen people retire who are actually poverty-stricken because they didn't plan. When you retire, you should have money waiting for you if you invest it now.
C1: Is there a lot of money in Corrections?
Borquez: The misconception is we get paid outrageous money, but we're not getting a full ride like Congress! Life expectancy of the average CO is 57 years old! I'm not kidding. We need to be smart with our money. Most people worry about their money at the end of their careers. But they need to start worrying at the beginning!
Average salary for corrections officers
The latest average salary numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics show:
The median annual wage for correctional officers and jailers was $47,410 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,940.
Borquez's 5 tips for financial planning
1. Start taking classes in money management when you first go in. Learn about your retirement plans. Management needs to make sure the prisons offer those classes. And the bosses need to go ahead and spend the money to get financial people to develop a portfolio for COs. I hate to say it, but I'm talking about one-on-one attention, because without it a CO's individual questions may not get answered.
2. Balance out your life with a budget. Figure out how much you need to spend for your wants and needs, and use overtime to get it.
3. Overtime is great, and when you first get in, that money can be seductive. COs get too anxious about making that extra money. In fact, I knew a guy who was working eighty hours a week. You can burn out and even have a heart attack from working that much. My best formula after spending years supporting my family is to work O.T. three times a month. Know management won't step in and tell you to slow down. If anything, they'll advise you to do more. You have to take care of yourself.
4. Save your money. Don't go out and buy that $45,000 tricked -out Durango pick up truck. Don't worry about buying a house. Feed your family and put that money where you need it. Spend it on toys when you know you can afford it.
5. When you first come in, they hit you with twenty different things to pay into. Try not to be overwhelmed by all of these options. Be careful where you put your money.
Take the time to think about where you're going to put your money. We're doing our time to protect society from these idiots. We deserve to be paid what we're worth.
Additional thoughts from former warden, Bob Hood
1. Plan for unemployment. Assume staff cutbacks may occur or an unexpected lack of judgement may impact your job. For example, accidentally keeping a door open, a DUI, or using excessive force with a combative inmate could result in a suspension, termination, or personal lawsuit. A temporary lack of income could devastate a family unless planned for.
2. Be careful with credit cards, loans, and borrowing money from fellow staff.
3. Personal financial issues at home often come into the workplace. Often prison administrators are contacted by individuals/companies claiming employees are not paying bills. Embarrassment and impact on professional reputation may result.
4. Never discuss your financial status (good or bad) in the presence of inmates.