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Day in the Life of a Correctional Officer

Updated on December 13, 2017
Correctional Officer
Correctional Officer | Source

by Amber Maccione

The Life of a Correctional Officer

According to the United States Department of Labor, becoming a correctional officer is a good idea. With only having to have your high school diploma or G.E.D. and little to no experience, it is considered an entry level job. Most entry level jobs start you out at minimum wage or a little higher. The average pay for a correctional officer is around $39,000 salary or $18.00 hourly (give or take depending on location and prior experience) (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012). But there is also a downside to this well paying job that some may not realize. When you take on a job that’s main goal is to oversee individuals who have been arrested, are awaiting trial, or are already serving time (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012), you are walking into a “hot zone”: a place that can be potentially dangerous because the people being detained do not want to be there and are there because of crimes they have committed. Most of the training that you receive before starting a job as a correctional officer is in self-defense (Luna 2010). Why? This job is one of the most stressful and hazardous jobs to hold because the people you manage are criminals (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012). So what is it like to be a correctional officer?

Self-Defense | Source

A correctional officer’s job description is to “assist in the accomplishment of the mission of the prison by maintaining control and order within the prison” or jail (Seiter 2011 p. 390). They supervise the inmates within the walls of a prison or jail and also make sure that the security procedures are followed. Seiter describes their job as highly technical in the fact that the “security procedures require strict adherence to policy and attention to detail” and highly interactive as they have to be in constant communication with the inmates in making sure all things run smoothly with little to no incidents (Seiter 2011 p. 390).

Getting a job as a correctional officer usually does not require a degree. Most places will take you as long as you have a high school diploma or equivalent (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012). All facilities that employ you have different types of training. One experienced correctional officer shared in her story that her first job in a juvenile facility consisted of thirty-six hours of classroom training with twenty-five of those hours being about “self-defense and use of chemicals to restrain inmates” (Luna 2010). After the training, she was assigned a position at the facility. Depending on where you are assigned determines what your day will look like. A basic day in the line of duty consists of routine. Routine is essential to keeping a secure facility as well as keeping all within safe. Seiter gives an example of what one correctional officer’s routine may look like: His job starts at seven a.m. where he reports for duty and reviews what the prior shift has already done. He then opens the unit’s doors (in which he is assigned) to allow the inmates to go to work. He supervises the inmates in his crew as they work. Then after the morning shift of work, he opens the unit’s doors once again for the inmates to return. By eleven a.m., he supervises the inmates as they go to the dining hall for lunch. By early afternoon, he opens the unit’s doors to allow the inmates to go to their afternoon shift of work. Around this same time, they will do a count and allow inmates not at work to go to the recreation yard. By three p.m., the correctional officer will end his shift by recording his activities and signing over his unit to another correctional officer (Seiter 2011 p. 392). Again, all correctional officers’ days may be different as far as what their activities entail, but they all have one thing in common – routine.

Supervison of Imates
Supervison of Imates | Source

Looking at what your day consists of as a correctional officer makes the job seem rather simple and easy, but the facts show otherwise. Working as a correctional officer is stressful and dangerous because those you are overseeing and managing do not want to be locked up or even told what to do and when to do it. There are many dangers that come with the territory. Officer Luna was told when starting her job that she should prepare her family by telling them that there could come a day when she leaves for work and does not return (Luna 2010). This field of work has the highest rates of nonfatal on the job injuries (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012), but it also has potential to do more than injure you. Some of the things (other than the fact that those you supervise do not want to be there) that make the job stressful and dangerous are 1) the demands and the fact that most places are understaffed, 2) excessive amounts of overtime and lack of ability to get time off, 3) threat of violence from inmate demands not being met (assaults, riots, etc.), 4) threat of disease (Seiter 2011 p. 393-394 & Luna 2010). Luna shares that during her first week on the job she was assaulted by four inmates when they hit her with a stair stepper. She also shared that during a Code Black, she was in a unit with only two other officers and twenty-five inmates. By the time help came, inmates and officers had already been injured from the riot (Luna 2010). Correctional officers can also be exposed to disease. Luna shares that when an inmate gets angry enough he can throw feces and urine at you (Luna 2010).

So You Want To Be A Correctional Officer

So with the reward of a well paying job, comes the downside of stress and potential danger. So how do you gain compliance of inmates to lower your stress and also make sure you go home unscathed? Seiter states that the disciplinary system of the facility is key. Every facility has policies and procedures in place to make the prison or jail safe and secure for all that are within its walls. Following these things and also providing the inmates with this information will help the facility run smoothly. Luna gives a second option in which Seiter agrees: respect (Luna 2010 & Seiter 2011 p. 395). Respect is two-fold. When you give respect, you tend to get respect back in return (Luna 2010). Combining these two things will help you gain inmate compliance. If an inmate knows that you are a correctional officer here to do your job professionally and treat him with respect as a human being than most of the time he will comply with what you are asking him to do. Inmates will try to push your buttons and manipulate you only to see if you are professional. If you choose to be professional and not fall prey to their antics, your job will become less at risk for danger and less stressful.

All in all, being a correctional officer can be a rewarding job in that you have decent pay, know what is expected of you each day, and are helping inmates through their time of stay within the facility that you work. Just as inmates are to follow rules, so are you. When both comply, it makes for a pleasant atmosphere in a not so pleasant place. If you have a good work ethic and are morally sound, a job as a correctional officer could be a great fit for you career wise.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). “Correctional Officers.” Occupational Outlook Handbook. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from

Luna, C. (2010). “Life on the Inside: A Correctional Officer’s View of Life Behind Bars in Texas Prisons.” Retrieved from

Seiter, R. (2011). Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Copyright © 2012


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