More women than ever are heading to work in jails and prisons across the country, according to the MTC Institute. Due to the unpredictable -- and sometimes violent -- behavior of inmates, a correctional officer needs to be strong enough to defend herself and take down inmates if a fight breaks out or a situation gets out of hand. This is especially true for females working in male prisons or with inmates much larger than themselves. Strict physical requirements are in place, and if you dream of pursuing a career in corrections, you'll need to meet all of them.
Aspiring officers are required to complete a physical examination before entering a training academy. During an exam, your physical strength will be put to the test and you'll have to prove that you're capable of completing a set amount of pushups and situps within a minute. Some states, such as Georgia, have different standards for female applicants. Other states, such as Washington, utilize a point-based system and score both sexes equally based on how many pushups and situps they complete. Once you're on the job, it's important that you maintain your physical strength so you're capable of subduing an inmate if she gets out of control.
You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to become a correctional officer, but you do need to be reasonably fast and capable of moving quickly. As part of your fitness exam, you'll have to run a mile. Typically, state standards require applicants to complete their mile runs in 13 minutes or less. Agility is essential as you'll need to be able to respond quickly if a fight breaks out, as well as capable of dodging incoming blows if a prisoner tries to attack you.
It's important for correctional officers to have good vision, as they need to be able to visually identify potential threats, as well as inmates and co-workers. As part of the physical exam, you'll have to prove that you have good vision with or without glasses or contacts. Most states require correctional officers to have at least 20/40 eyesight in both eyes. Additionally, you need good peripheral vision to observe what's going on around you. Your depth perception and ability to distinguish colors will also be put to the test. Depth perception is essential for judging your distance from inmates during physical altercations.
As a correctional officer, you can't rely solely on your vision to identify threats and problems. An attack could come from behind, for example, or a fight could start outside your line of vision. For this reason, you need good hearing to identify issues you can't necessarily see. Requirements vary by state, but in Georgia, for example, candidates must have hearing loss of no greater than 24 decibels. A candidate with partial hearing loss must have a DEA average of 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 in her better ear with or without the use of a hearing aid.
- Public Safety Testing: Physical Ability Test Requirements - Corrections
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Correctional Officers
- Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission: Corrections Officer Physical Fitness
- Georgia Department of Corrections: How to Become a GDC Correctional Officer
- MTC Institute: Women Professionals in Corrections: A Growing Asset