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A correctional officer is someone who is responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or prison.
Inside the prison or jail, correctional officers enforce rules and regulations. They maintain security by preventing any disturbances, assaults, or escapes. They supervise the daily activities of inmates, ensuring that inmates obey the rules and finish their work. They also ensure that they know where all inmates are. Officers must search inmates for contraband such as weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline. They also:
Correctional officers enforce regulations through effective communication and the use of progressive sanctions, which involve punishments such as loss of privileges. Sanctions are progressive in that they start out small for a lesser or single offence but become more severe for more serious offences or when repeat offences occur. In addition, officers may aid inmates in their rehabilitation by scheduling work assignments, counselling, and educational opportunities. Correctional officers periodically inspect facilities. They check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, contraband, signs of a security breach such as any tampering with window bars or doors, and any other evidence of violations of the rules. Officers also inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. They write reports or fill out daily logs detailing inmate behaviour and anything of note that occurred during their shift.
Correctional officers must determine the best practical approach to solving a problem. Officers must use both their training and common sense to quickly determine the best course of action and to take necessary steps to achieve a desired outcome. They must be able to interact and effectively communicate with inmates and others to maintain order in correctional facilities and courtrooms. They must be able to assist others in resolving differences to avoid conflict, and need to be able to control their emotions when confronted with hostile situations. Correctional officers cannot show favouritism and must report any inmate who violates the rules.
Correctional officers may have to restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to escort them safely to and from cells and other areas and to see authorized visitors. They must have the strength to physically move or subdue inmates. Officers also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations. If a crime is committed within their institution or an inmate escapes, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities investigate or search for the escapee. Correctional officers have no responsibilities for law enforcement outside of their place of work.
The vast majority of correctional officers work for the government. Some are employed by private companies that provide correctional services to prisons and jails. Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and dangerous. Every year, correctional officers are injured in confrontations with inmates. Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries. Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors. Some correctional institutions are well lighted, temperature controlled, and ventilated, but others are old, overcrowded, hot, and noisy.
Correctional officers must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. They then go through a training academy and are assigned to a facility for on-the-job training. Some facilities also require some college education or work experience, but law enforcement or military experience may be substituted for this requirement.
Correctional officers may complete a variety of certifications that provide additional resources for their daily work. These certifications also are a means to further the officers’ careers because they may lead to promotions. Qualified officers may advance to the position of correctional sergeant, who is responsible for maintaining security and directing the activities of other officers. Qualified officers also can be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions, including warden. Officers sometimes transfer to related jobs, such as probation officer, parole officer, or correctional treatment specialist.