Have you ever dreamed of having a career in law enforcement? If so, you might be interested in learning how to become a correctional officer. These people are also called detention officers. Their main responsibilities are to watch over convicted prisoners and ensure peace and order inside the correctional facilities. This is a challenging job which requires not only physical strength but also the right attitude to be able to handle conflicts and troublesome situations. Who knows, this might be the profession suited for you.
1. Basic requirements
To be considered for the job, you must be a US citizen, at least 18 years of age but not more than 37 years old upon application.
2. Be in shape
Since this is a stressful job which could be demanding to your body, you must be physically fit and pass the necessary test for your vision and hearing. Your endurance and agility would also be judged through strenuous exercises and activities. Having an unbiased judgment and unending patience are also important for you to settle disputes between prisoners and co-workers. Remember that most of the time you are with people who committed social deviance.
3. Have a clean record
As a law enforcer, you are expected to have a clean record. It is necessary that you undergo drug tests and background checks to ensure you are free from any felonies, crimes, offenses or cases that could disqualify you from having the job. This includes any misdemeanor and drug offenses committed for the past five years. Your credit history would also be examined to avoid any possibilities of bribery.
4. Educational requirement
Finish high school and earn a diploma or General Education Development (GED). Depending on your state or correctional institution, especially of you wish to be part of a Federal agency, a Bachelor’s Degree is usually required. You may choose to take up courses in law enforcement, juvenile justice, ethics, criminal justice or police studies to give you the necessary knowledge and skills. During the duration of your college coursework, topics on criminal investigations and constitutional laws are given emphasis which is very useful once you decide to pursue in practice. However, you may have at least 3 years of full-time experience in fields such as: counseling, nursing and other professions offering supervision and assistance in lieu of a degree.
5. Take self defense classes
Learn the basics of self defense and handling disputes. Chances of handling hostile and violent prisoners are inevitable. This may be one of the reasons why officials prefer to hire those who have previous military experience and law enforcement background.
6. Look for employment
Be sure to choose agencies and employers that would give you the benefits and career growth you deserve. You may apply in a Federal, State or Local Correctional wherein you would be assigned in jails, reformatory or penitentiary. The US Immigration and Naturalization Services are also in need of correctional officers to look after illegal aliens and deportees. On the other hand, there are also job opportunities in Non-government Correctional.
7. Undergo training and get certified
If you aim for career advancements, this would be the first step to achieve that. Training is one of the most important requirements that all correctional agencies set. This program is conducted and accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA) in coordination with the American Jail Association. Discussion on topics such as: custody procedures, security protocols, institutional policies, correctional regulations and jail operations are provided. Once you are hired, it is mandatory to be subjected to 200 hours formal training and 120 hours specialized training upon your first year as a federal correctional officer. This is still conducted based on the guidelines given by the American Correctional Association (ACA).
For further information, here is a list of requirements to qualify for the American Correctional Association (ACA) Professional Certification Program:
- High School Diploma or General Education Development (GED)
- Associate Degree
- At least one year experience in present position
- Approved Application by (ACA)
- Passing the examination formulated by (ACA). You must achieve a score of at least 75% out of the 200 questions.
Remember that just like other certifications, there is a need for renewal every 3 years. You can achieve this by gaining 40 units of continuing education credits. However, this could be revoked once you commit one of the following offenses:
- Any violation of the American Correctional Association code of ethics.
- Being convicted for a crime.
- Being downgraded for the position due to disciplinary sanctions.
- Once removed from employment because of involuntary reasons.
According to surveys conducted, the position as a Correctional Officer always has job vacancies. The salary would depend on the type of correctional you are hired. However, benefits, health insurance, sick and vacation leaves are always offered since this is a risky and stressful job. Trainings and educational requirements could also affect your pay differentials. An average salary for beginners in the field is ranging from $25,000 to $41,000 per year. This would eventually increase as you gain more experience and trainings. If you are interested to enter this profession and ready to take the risks and dangers it entails, starting now on your step as a Correctional Officers is not a bad idea. The law enforcement career is a very challenging job in which you can grow professionally.
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