You’ve seen the prison pics showing big and burly guards manhandling even bigger cons to maintain order. Real life is more about correctional officers of any size enforcing prison rules by talking to prisoners about changing behavior. As a woman, you can excel in that aspect of the position. As an officer, you’ll also get the training you need to defend yourself physically.
You need at least a high-school diploma to apply as a correctional officer, although some local and state facilities demand college courses. Your military or law enforcement experience can substitute for some of the requirements. To work for the federal government demands at least a bachelor’s degree, three years experience in counseling or supervising people, or a combination of the two. Once approved for work, you go through training at an academy run by the hiring agency or a private company. You learn prison policies, security procedures and operations. You then learn on the job about such skills as interpersonal relations, self-defense, and, in some cases, the use of firearms.
As a law enforcement officer, your jurisdiction starts and ends inside your prison. You must enforce prison rules and take charge of inmate activities. You may need to search prisoners and their cells for contraband such as drugs and weapons, make sure they finish their assigned work, and stop disturbances before they start. When trouble erupts, you can physically restrain individuals with handcuffs and leg irons. For minor offenses, your sanctions can start with a one-time loss of a privilege. For serious and continual problems, you can send prisoners to solitary confinement.
Correctional officers averaged $43,300 a year, as of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest earners made less than $26,710, while the best-paid received over $68,550 yearly. More than half worked for state governments to earn a mean $44,230 per year. More than a third were in local government, averaging $42,020 yearly. The best salaries were in the federal system, earning a mean annual salary of $53,440. Most guards worked in the high-population states of Texas, at a mean $34,880 per year; and California, at a mean annual $66,540. The highest compensation was in New Jersey, averaging $69,840 per year.
The BLS expects jobs for correctional officers to increase by 5 percent through the decade, which is less than the 7 percent predicted for all law enforcement workers, and under the 14 percent projected for all jobs in all industries. Population growth will increase criminal behavior, producing more prisoners and more opportunities for correctional officers, some experts believe. In addition, the stresses of the job mean high job turnover, which opens up positions for new workers.
- Portland State University: Women Prison Guards
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Correctional Officer
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Correctional Officers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Wages for Correctional Officers and Jailers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook for Correctional Officers
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images