The Roles of A Corrections Officer In The US 

Corrections Officer

There are over 1.6 million inmates convicted of different crimes and violations across the US. While these convicts serve jail time as punishment for their offenses, the correctional facilities aim to discipline and rehabilitate them, so they leave better individuals than they were when they came in. Corrections officers are pivotal to achieving this objective.

Find out in this article the roles of a corrections officer in prisons and other attributes of a career path in this criminal justice vocation.

What is a corrections officer?

Also known as prison guards or detention officers, corrections officers are law enforcement workers responsible for maintaining law and order in correctional facilities. They serve as the voice of authority in local jails, federal penitentiaries or state prisons. They maintain law and order, working hand in hand with medical practitioners, counselors and wardens. These officers represent an essential part of America’s criminal justice system.

There are several programs for those looking for a career in the criminal justice field, such as the Laurier online criminology degree. It gives prospective corrections officers a great chance of working and excelling in correctional facilities.

The duties of a corrections officer

Corrections officers perform a variety of duties within the institution. Their roles can be classified into a few major responsibilities:

Supervising inmates

This is the primary function of corrections officers. They must oversee the activities of inmates, which means they must be in constant contact with them. Supervision also involves transporting inmates between the facility and other locations. For instance, a corrections officer must be on-ground when moving an inmate to the courtroom or a medical facility. These officers need to remain vigilant and observant at all times.

Rule enforcement

Every institution has regulations, and correctional facilities even more so. It is the duty of these officers to enforce these regulations. To this effect, corrections officers need to be knowledgeable about the rules of the facility and the best way to implement them. Corrections officers can either do this through discipline or communication.

Instead of reactionary rule enforcement, it may be more effective to carry out preventive enforcement. Officers should ensure that they enlighten inmates about the facility’s rules at every opportunity, to reduce the chances of inmates ignorantly infringing upon them. Also, before delivering disciplinary action to law-breaking inmates, officers should communicate exactly what they are being punished for.

Inspect correctional facilities

A significant role of a corrections officer is to inspect jails and prisons. Although this may not seem like such a beneficial task, it is necessary to ensure a harmonious environment for both inmates and law enforcers. The facility’s conditions greatly affect the end goal of rehabilitating and nurturing inmates to become law-abiding individuals. Inmates need to be fit to rejoin society upon their release, and spending years in harsh and worn prison spaces is of no help in this regard.

Inspections are also necessary to check for illegal substances and packages or signs of a security breach, such as broken window bars or doors. It goes hand in hand with preventing rule violations since inmates will be less inclined to commit acts that will be discovered during an inspection.

Reports filing

Reports are instrumental in tracking inmate behaviors and unusual activities in these facilities. Whenever there is an infraction or breakdown of law and order, corrections officers must report it. Over time, these records will reveal the inmates requiring more supervision or those that pose significant threats. These daily events logs will also prove helpful in probation hearings and court proceedings.


The idea of a correctional center is to mold individuals that are fit for society with controlled force, more humanity and better education. Many of these establishments offer courses and training to equip inmates with life skills. Most of the time, the detention officers are the ones who help instill this training. For instance, an officer in this facility with good computer knowledge could be drafted to teach the inmates computer skills.

Another component of rehabilitation is counseling. At a prison with a large population of violent inmates, it is not unusual for the violent and infamous inmates to take advantage of the weakest ones. Officers often must participate in rehabilitation efforts by counseling the offenders. To find out more about the best practices for prisoner rehabilitation, visit this website:

The work environment of a corrections officer

The fact that criminals and lawbreakers share the work environment of a corrections officer makes the job quite intense. Officers spend a large amount of time separating fights and restoring order. However, the nature of the work environment is also influenced by the quality of the facility.

Newer facilities have a more comfortable layout and design. Inmates have better spacing, which makes it convenient for everyone, including the corrections officers. Not all correctional facilities are government owned. In fact, many of them are run by private companies and therefore operate like a business with the aim of making a profit.

With privately owned institutions, the large amount of money invested into the upkeep of the buildings positively affects the working environment. Some of these new facilities deploy the finest technologies, thereby making the officer’s job much easier.

Do different security levels affect the roles of corrections officers?

In the US, correctional facilities are categorized into maximum, medium and minimum security levels. The work setting is less tense for medium and minimum security facilities, allowing officers to perform their roles with lower stress levels and lower risk of burnout.

Maximum security correctional facilities, also known as US Penitentiaries, house criminals convicted of some of the worst crimes. These convicts usually have a history of violence, previous jail sentences, prison misconduct, etc. These facilities will feature more safeguards against a security breach, including:

  • Highly secured perimeters
  • Reinforced fences
  • One or two-person cells
  • High staff-to-inmate ratio
  • Guard towers with armed rifle guards

Moreover, many of these facilities are plagued by prison gangs, making the work environment even less friendly.

Skill requirements for a corrections officer

So far, it is clear that a job as a corrections officer is very delicate and requires individuals with the right combination of skills. Here are some essential ones that come in handy:

Good communication

This means effectively getting your message across to the inmates. Note that proper English is not the basic criterion here. Instead, corrections officers need to be able to adapt their mode of verbal expression to different situations. Communication is also about active listening, so corrections officers need a good balance of listening and speaking skills.

While communicating, officers also need to show a high level of confidence and authority which is necessary to get the attention of inmates. Moreover, good communication skills come in handy when writing reports and interacting with superiors and colleagues.

Physical strength

Physical strength is beneficial to corrections officers who often must restrain inmates or separate fights. Only the most physically fit can withstand the rigors of supervising inmates, especially at a maximum security prison.

Corrections officers often must undergo proper training to learn the most effective ways of deploying force. These officers generally have weapons and tools to overpower inmates during riots or brawls. However, good knowledge of pressure points helps officers to subdue violent inmates with the least amount of force.

Good decision making

It is safe to say that correctional facilities are high-pressure environments. Therefore, corrections officers should be able to make good judgment calls and think effectively on their feet. Violent and impulsive inmates will not give officers enough time to process the perfect way to react. In many cases, prison guards must make the best decisions in the shortest time possible.


This is an essential attribute for corrections officers, mainly because these workers spend a significant amount of time with highly undisciplined individuals. A high level of discipline helps to keep corrections officers in check, even in the most provoking and unexpected situations.

It takes a lot of discipline not to give in to unregulated impulses, which is why discipline is so important in this job. As a corrections officer, it is imperative to maintain order and uphold regulations, especially when the inmates are bent on breaking the rules.

Officers should have a good understanding of the regulations within the four walls of the facilities. At the same time, they should be disciplined enough to abide by them without supervision.

Attention to detail

Inmates and criminals can be very clever, breaking the law in blind spots or in ways that are difficult to notice. This is where attention to detail comes into play. There is a low chance of getting credible information from other inmates or finding anyone willing to snitch on a prison gang member who has broken the regulations. So, officers should be able to identify even the faintest clues.

In addition, these facilities are termed ‘correctional’ because they aim to correct the flawed mindsets and behaviors of inmates. To this effect, behavioral changes in any form and of any magnitude are significant, and corrections officers should be able to spot them.

Stress management

Working in a correctional facility can be very stressful. When officers do not possess stress management skills, the pressure of the job can affect their functioning. In correctional facilities, riots can break out, raising the stress level significantly. At such points, officers need their heads in a good state to respond and contain the situation adequately. Common ways to keep stress levels at a minimum include meditation, exercise, diet and healthy sleep.

Requirements for becoming a corrections officer

Apart from the skills highlighted above, corrections officers must meet some other requirements to get this job:


The educational requirements for these officers depend on the class of correctional facility. Most federal prisons require at least a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, these prisons might need officers to have taken relevant behavioral or social science related courses. The knowledge from these college courses is very relevant to functioning correctly in this job.

As a substitute or in addition, having military experience is a big plus for corrections officers. However, for some other classes of correctional facilities, like state-owned jails, a high school diploma, GED, or its equivalent could suffice.


Due to the nature of the job, corrections officers must take tests and exams before they are certified fit. Firstly, written exams will evaluate officers’ knowledge, judgment and critical thinking. Secondly, physical exams assess prospective officers’ strengths, skills, endurance, and other vital indices. Often, background checks, medical examinations, and psychological evaluations may be requested to ensure new hires are up to the tasks ahead.


Academic degrees and theoretical knowledge are not sufficient. It is also necessary to complete special training in order to learn specific skills for the job. Some of the focal points in these trainings include:

  • Self-defense
  • Great communication skills
  • Security protocols and procedures
  • State regulations
  • Vocational skills


Correctional facilities are not the friendliest workplaces as they house individuals with records of violence, misconduct, and breaking the law. Corrections officers have the tough job of overseeing the rehabilitation of these individuals. They must enforce the rules, maintain order, break up brawls, prevent crises and perform other demanding tasks. For these reasons, functioning as an officer in such establishments requires great psychological stability, sound decision making, and, sometimes, physical strength. Corrections officers must constantly put this combination of skills to use to maintain peace and order.

Amy Virgilio
Amy Virgilio is passionate about bringing new ideas and creativity through writing.

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