If you have a mind for discipline and a strong personality, monitoring criminal suspects or convicts as a correctional officer may be right up your alley. Traditionally a male-oriented career, women are finding more opportunities than ever working these jobs in prisons and jails. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 5 percent job growth from 2010 to 2020. Median pay in 2010 was $39,020, per the BLS.
Correctional officers have one of the highest job injury and illness rates in the United States, according to the BLS. Officers often deal with unruly inmates who put up a fight when initially transitioned into a jail or during their time in prison. Similar to other law enforcement careers, you need a tough mental attitude to persevere and handle the physical risks. Women officers may be especially targeted by male prisoners for taunting or aggressive behavior. Being fit and having reasonable physical strength helps to restrain inmates. You also need knowledge of weapons and self-defense, which you can pick up in a training academy.
A corrections officer often works an eight-hour shift with little or no incident. Despite the boredom that may result, most officers prefer not to deal with inmate disturbances or issues. Still, an officer must always be prepared to react quickly if an inmate becomes unruly, if a fight breaks out or if someone is in danger. Being alert and ready to act are basic professional traits of a correctional officer.
To succeed in a job where you monitor the behavior of those convicted or alleged to have committed crimes dictates that you have a high moral character. Background checks are the norm for corrections jobs. In particular, the facility or agency looks to see if you have been convicted of a felony. Often, this eliminates your potential for a career in corrections. Dishonorable discharge from a military branch also casts a cloud over your opportunities. Essentially, agencies want to know that you can be trusted to make morally sound and practical decisions when dealing with conflicts.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Despite the importance of being assertive and tough-minded, probation officers generally need strong conflict resolution skills. Often, talking down a volatile or angry inmate is the first step in dealing with a difficult situation. Listening skills and empathy can help you calm an inmate to a point where he will discuss his frustration or feelings rather than trying to express them violently. Prison agencies generally prefer to avoid physical altercations and engagement to whatever extent possible.
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