Detention Officer Requirements

Detention officers monitor and secure prisoners and inmates.
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Detention officers oversee and supervise inmates in state and federal prisons and in some county jails. You must meet several eligibility requirements in order to work as a detention officer. Even if you meet these requirements, a potential employer can disqualify you if you fail a background check or have a criminal record.

Basic Requirements

    Detention officers must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien. You must be able to pass a drug test and background check. Having one or more felony convictions on your record will disqualify you. You must be able to work well with others, have impeccable communication skills, be able to identify and successfully resolve problems and have some basic computer skills, such as using Microsoft Word.

Knowledge and Skills

    To succeed as a detention officer, you should know relevant federal, state and local laws, codes, ordinances, policies and procedures. You should also be familiar with laws governing arrest, search and seizure and security protocols for the prison or jail where you work. For example, you may need to use surveillance equipment or non-lethal weapons, like pepper spray, and stun guns. You may need to be certified, or able to get certification, in using this type of equipment. Most jails and prisons also require detention officers to know CPR and other basic first-aid techniques.

Fitness Requirements

    Some police departments and departments of corrections require detention officers to meet certain fitness requirements. In Dallas, for example, detention officers must be height-weight proportionate, have a systolic blood pressure below 160 and a diastolic blood pressure below 100. They must also have 20/20 vision, though are allowed to wear contact lessons or glasses in order to meet this requirement.

Education and Experience

    You need to have a high school diploma or GED to work as a detention officer. Some sheriff’s offices, like the one in Maricopa County Arizona, will waive this education requirement for applicants who have relevant and equivalent work experience. To work as a detention officer in a federal prison, you need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, three years' full-time experience counseling, assisting or supervising individuals or a combination of this experience.


    If hired, you’ll need to complete training. Detention officers in the city of College Station, Texas, for example, must complete at least a four-week training program that covers coping with stressful situations, criminal law, crime scene techniques and report writing. If you work in a federal prison, you may need to complete training courses in institutional policies, regulations, operations and custody and security procedures. During your first year on the job as a federal correctional officer, you must complete 200 hours of formal training, including 120 hours of specialized training at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons residential training center.

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