Correction Topics

Guide to a Career in Corrections

What is Corrections?

Students who earn a college degree in Corrections and begin a career in this exciting field have the important responsibilities of overseeing the criminal population and ensuring the safety of citizens. The law enforcement and corrections field may seem intimidating at first, due to the regimented lifestyle and high level of responsibility. There are many benefits, however, to working in law enforcement. Here are just some of the many attractive qualities of the field of law enforcement and corrections:

Corrections is one of the fastest growing job fields in the country.
As criminals become more skilled, law enforcement professionals must continue to increase their knowledge base and skills to combat current and future threats.
Individuals that purse advancement on their own may be eligible for salary increases as their knowledge increases.
Corrections Degrees pave the way for successful careers in law if candidates so desire.
The growth of information technology has created more educational opportunities in the law enforcement field. Many students are now able to earn a college degree in Corrections from an accredited online or distance learning institution. The flexibility of an online or distance learning program makes education available to many students who already have jobs or families to support. By matriculating into an online or distance learning college degree program in Corrections, students are able to control their own study and class schedules, and are not forced to relocate to a physical college campus.

The convenience of online education is especially important in the field of corrections because many high security facilities are located in isolated and rural areas that are quite a distance from educational centers. The use of educational technology and the availability of distance and online college degree programs enable students to explore educational and professional opportunities outside of heavily populated areas. Many correctional facilities offer continual online education to staff, in tandem with services provided to prisoners going through rehab and remedial services. As prisons become increasingly compartmentalized and technologically enhanced, education via the Internet will become more and more commonplace in correctional settings nationwide.

Career Education in Corrections

Undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs

An online or distance learning college degree program in Corrections focuses on counseling and rehabilitation of offenders, probation, parole, community corrections, and juvenile services. Corrections professionals have the opportunity to make a strong and lasting impact on those they oversee. They will confront dangerous situations and be offered opportunities to help improve lives. The tools gained from a college degree program in Corrections will prepare them for the challenges of a career in the field. Close collaboration between teachers and students in this major is strongly encouraged. Students are also highly encouraged to gain experience through internships and job-shadowing programs. Internship experiences can lead to preferential treatment during the job search after graduation. Some graduates of Corrections degree programs work as correctional officers, correctional counselors, and community and court probation officers. Others have opted to specialize in sexual abuse and child protection services.

College degree programs in Corrections are designed to provide students with a set of skills that they will need to obtain entry-level positions in the field. Upon graduation from a college degree program in Corrections, students should be able to explain the basic concepts of the daily operations and functions of the criminal justice system. They should have the ability to recognize and analyze sociological factors that may increase the likelihood of instances of crime. They should be able to explain criminal and social deviance and should be able to describe in detail potential criminal profiles. Students should be knowledgeable of constitutional processes and applicable law.

A strong foundation of knowledge regarding criminal instincts and motivations is crucial for success in the professional field of corrections. The foundational courses in this major are designed to provide students with this knowledge. Courses such as Introduction to Law Enforcement provide students with the opportunity to discuss the nature of criminality and how to control it. Introductory courses like this one also cover criminal treatment processes and criminal psychology.

Courses such as Criminal Law focus on three separate examinations of the justice system: traffic, juvenile, and liquor laws. In most college degree programs in Corrections, the first course that is most relevant to the Corrections major is Introduction to Corrections. Introduction to Corrections covers the following topics:

The history and development of correctional institutions
Review of prison and rehab facilities
Sentencing, incarceration, and parole
Hierarchy of prison management and regulations
The daily communications system of prison life
Courses such as Parole and Probation offer a review of the proper procedures in treatment and sentencing guidelines. Accordingly, courses like Community Relations and Policing relate how to utilize corrections knowledge in a positive and constructive way when dealing with the community at large. An introductory course in Juvenile Delinquency has often proved beneficial to students and future corrections officers because criminal tendencies in children are a growing problem. Law Enforcement officials need to be equipped to handle situations with criminal youth that may arise in a variety of circumstances.

A course in Juvenile Corrections may follow courses in Juvenile Delinquency. Courses covering topics relating to empirical studies, current perspectives on the juvenile justice system, juvenile code, and the difference between adult and juvenile courts may also be part of the curriculum.

What Can You Do with a University Degree in Corrections?

Career options for aspiring correctional officers

Career outlook

The prospects for job opportunities for correctional officers are excellent. Thousands of corrections positions are expected to open each year due to a greater demand for correctional officers and the need to replace correctional officers who leave the profession or who retire.

Though there are expected to be many job openings in the corrections field, many corrections facilities have had trouble attracting and retaining desirable job applicants. This may be due to low salaries and the saturation of the job market in rural areas.

As the population of inmates rises, employment opportunities for correctional officers are expected to grow and to continue growing during the next seven years. Mandatory sentencing, longer sentences, and shortened paroles will contribute to the unwavering growth of the inmate population. New jobs for correctional officers will also be created as new corrections facilities are built and existing facilities are expanded. The development of physical facilities will depend largely on the budgets of State and local governments. It is not uncommon for public corrections authorities to work with private companies in the provision of correctional facilities and corrections staff. This trend is expected to increase employment opportunities in the private sector.

Job security for a corrections officer is high. Because of the need and the demand created by rising inmate populations, layoffs of corrections officers are extremely rare.

Diversity in the field

The Corrections industry is very diverse. Minority participation in law enforcement continues to grow and shows no sign of abating in the future. A centered, positive, and impartial attitude is integral to success as a law enforcement professional.

Though minority participation in the corrections field is growing, the field remains very male-dominated. Several factors are responsible for this trend. Issues of security, inmate privacy, and the demanding physical requirements of corrections jobs have acted as impediments to female advancement in the field. Women do, however, also have some advantages in the professional field of corrections. Women in the field have traditionally demonstrated a greater concern for younger inmates, a progressive vision for change, and a strong ability to work in groups and encourage positive cooperation and coordination. A recent study by American Correctional Association's Women in Corrections Committee has shown:

Forty-six percent of agencies offered training to address needs of female employees.
Seventy-six percent provided courses in sexual harassment courses, many of which are available online.
Fifty-nine percent of the departments provided materials and seminars geared toward decreasing the use of stereotypes and misconceptions of women and minorities. Minorities currently working in the corrections field attributed their professional success to:

Assistance and feedback from superiors across a wide range of departments
Having a strong interest in problem solving and assuring proper operation of services
A drive to work until the job is done
Possessing the tact and diplomacy to manage personnel
The ability and willingness to risk missteps by asking questions
Having the ability to be focused and decisive
In order for women and minorities to continue to achieve success in the corrections field, there needs to be:

A continuation of the development of opportunities for minority career advancement
Increased assertiveness training for women participants
Increased community awareness of minority participation through utilizing new online and traditional media promotional tools
The encouragement of flexible schedules and career enhancement opportunities for all employees, minority and otherwise
The awareness of issues that impact women and minorities in the corrections workplace.

Work environment

The regular responsibility of a corrections officer is to monitor people who have been arrested and are waiting for trial, or who have been convicted and sentenced to serve time in a corrections facility such as a jail or a penitentiary. The job of the corrections officer is to keep corrections facilities secure. He or she must take measures in the prevention of violence within the facility and of inmate escapes. The law enforcement authority enjoyed by a corrections officer exists only within the institution or facility in which he or she works and must not be exercised outside of the workplace.

Corrections officers are sometimes known as detention officers and are employed in the police or sheriff department in county jails. It is common for corrections officers to find employment in this segment of the industry because about 75% of all jails are under the jurisdiction of a sheriff and are county government-run.

The inmate population of a jail is in constant flux. Prisoners are constantly being released or transferred to prison and new prisoners are constantly being brought in. Corrections officers who work in jails across the United States admit more than 11 million new offenders or potential offenders each year. The admittance process is the most dangerous part of the job of a corrections officer. Because the identity of the arrested person is often unknown at the time of admittance, the corrections officer must be aware of the potential for the arrested person to be violent.

Corrections officers in the United States collectively monitor the revolving population of the one million or so incarcerated people who continuously reside in jails and prisons. Though both kinds of facilities have dangerous elements, prisons are generally more stable environments than jails. Some corrections officers find employment with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, monitoring individuals who are waiting to be released or deported. Some are employed in correctional institutions that are operated by private organizations.

The job of a corrections officer can be dangerous and difficult. Corrections officers must handle the possibility of having a confrontation with an inmate that could be potentially harmful. Some corrections facilities are well maintained, clean, well lighted, and ventilated. Other correction facilities, however, are overcrowded, hot, and in disrepair. Because there must always be security provided in corrections institutions, the schedule maintained by a corrections officer can be tiring. Officers must often work full days five days a week and frequently have to work overtime hours, overnight shifts, and on weekends and holidays.

Job duties

Corrections professionals are the front line of contact for the inmates under their supervision. A daily workday in the life of typical corrections professional could include the following:

Monitoring work activities and assignments for prison inmates
Inspecting cells and other areas for cleanliness
Searching inmates and cells for illegal items such as weapons and drugs
Inspecting locks, doors and other points of entry for signs of tampering
Screening visitors and mail for prohibited items
Serving meals and distributing hygienic items to prisoners
Escorting prisoners to places within the facility and outside locations such as courtrooms and medical facilities
Reporting on the work quality of inmates. Reports may be written or oral
Communicating rules to inmates in a clear, civil, but forceful manner
Using handcuffs, pepper spray, and other deterrents as needed in proper and safe manner
Interacting with inmates that are often confrontational and angry
Cooperating and communicating with co-workers
Convincing inmates to follow all regulations
Being constantly on guard and aware of inmate behavior that could have serious physical consequences
Working eight-hour days, weekends, and holidays
Being highly agile and able to move quickly in physically demanding situations
Seeking out and encouraging support from superiors and co-workers

Salary Information for Careers in Corrections

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2002, the average annual salary of a correction officer was $32, 670. Average annual salaries for all corrections officers ranged between more than $52,370 and less than $22,010. Corrections officers working for the Federal government earned an average annual salary of $40,900. Those working for State governments earned an average annual salary of $33,260. Those working for local governments earned $31,380. Starting annual salaries for corrections officers working for the Federal government were higher if the officers were employed in areas where local pay was higher.

Corrections officers working in a supervisory or managerial capacity earned an average annual salary in 2002 of $44,940. Annual salaries ranged between more than $69,370 and less than $29,220.

Extensive government-provided benefits are included in the annual salaries of a Federally-employed corrections officer. Overall, 427,000 work in small to medium sized correctional facilities. Nearly 60% work in state prisons, prison camps, or youth facilities. Others work in large prisons in rural areas. Employment opportunities are expected to grow at an above average rate through 2012. Because the Law Enforcement industry revolves around crime, an issue that will never completely disappear, employment opportunities will always be available.

The future of the corrections field

Through the completion of an online, distance learning, or traditional college degree program, corrections officers can advance their careers. With additional education, corrections officers may become corrections sergeants or wardens. As criminal activities evolve, both the public and private sector will be in need of qualified individuals with fresh perspectives that are enhanced through education. Individuals that occupy positions in law enforcement such as corrections risk their own safety on a daily basis. They deserve the best educational opportunities available. The educational options provided by information technology ensure that the next generation of corrections officers will be successful.

Employment statistics

In 2002, corrections officers held 476,000 jobs, the majority of which were in locations such as prisons, youth detention centers and correctional facilities, and prison camps. The jobs that were not in a State-run facility were in facilities operated by local government, such as city and county jails.

Most correctional officers are employed by small jails and other correctional institutions in rural areas. Many work in larger jails and other facilities in urban areas. The jails in urban areas have a significantly larger inmate population than most jails in rural areas.