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How Much Do Maximum Security Prison Guards Make?

Working as a correctional officer in a maximum security prison is an extremely demanding and dangerous job. These officers are tasked with maintaining order and control of some of the most violent and dangerous inmates in the prison system. But how much do these brave men and women make for such difficult work? In this comprehensive article, we will examine the salaries, benefits, and job outlook for maximum security prison guards.

Salary and Wages

The average annual salary for maximum security prison guards in the United States is approximately $45,000 per year. However, salaries can vary considerably depending on factors such as:

Experience and Seniority

Like many careers, prison guards earn more as they gain experience and seniority on the job. Entry-level correctional officers start around $35,000 per year, while the most experienced officers with over 20 years on the job can make over $60,000 annually. Sergeants and other supervisory roles also earn more.


Salaries fluctuate based on the state and specific facility. Guards in high cost-of-living states like California and New York generally earn 10-20% more than the national average. Maximum security federal prisons also tend to pay better than state facilities.


Most maximum security prisons require guards to have at least a high school diploma or GED. However, those with some college credits or an associate’s degree typically start at a higher base pay rate.


Working in a maximum security environment with violent offenders carries immense risks. Most prisons provide “hazard pay” premiums – usually 5-10% above base salary. Some also offer overtime and weekend shift differentials.

So while the average is around $45,000, it’s possible for an experienced officer in a high-risk federal prison to earn over $70,000 per year with all the premiums and differentials added.


In addition to competitive pay, maximum security prison guards receive excellent benefits packages from their employers.

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Health Insurance

Most maximum security prisons provide medical and dental insurance to employees and their families with no monthly premium cost. Some facilities pay 100% of premiums, while others use a cost-sharing model. Either way, guards receive comprehensive, low-cost healthcare.

Life Insurance

Due to the hazards of the job, life insurance is commonly offered. Many states provide $50,000-$100,000 policies to the beneficiary of any guard killed in the line of duty.


Nearly all maximum security prisons offer defined benefit pension plans to retiring guards. This guarantees a certain fixed monthly payment in retirement based on salary and years of service. Guards typically vest after 5-10 years on the job.

Guards earn 2-4 weeks of paid vacation per year, plus another 10-15 paid holidays. Sick days, personal leave, and bereavement time off are also standard.

Tuition Reimbursement

Many prison systems offer tuition reimbursement for guards continuing their education. This can be a great help for earning a bachelor’s degree.

The combination of great healthcare, insurance, retirement plans, and generous paid time off provides prison guards with outstanding benefits few other careers can match.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for maximum security prison guards is very positive:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for all correctional officers to grow by 7% from 2020-2030, keeping pace with average job growth.
  • Rising incarceration rates and facilities regularly operating at full capacity ensures demand will remain strong for new officers.
  • Excellent job security due to the essential public service they provide. Very low risk of guards being replaced by automation or outsourcing.
  • Opportunities for overtime are abundant due to chronic understaffing issues at many high-security prisons. This allows motivated guards to significantly supplement their base pay.
  • Positions cannot be easily outsourced or given to less qualified personnel. The specialized nature of maintaining control in maximum security prisons prevents the use of other workers.

Overall, the hiring forecast for maximum security correctional officers looks quite strong for the foreseeable future. Candidates with the right qualifications and temperament should have little trouble finding employment.

Job Duties and Work Environment

Before deciding if a career as a maximum security prison guard is right for you, it’s important to understand what the job truly entails and the environment you’ll be working in.

Guards in maximum security prisons have a profoundly difficult job with a wide range of duties including:

Maintaining Order

This is the primary responsibility – to preserve order and prevent escapes, riots, fights between inmates, and attacks on staff. Guards must remain constantly alert.

Supervising Cellblocks

Officers must monitor inmates’ activities in their living quarters at all times. This involves frequent patrols up and down the cell blocks.

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Enforcing Rules and Procedures

Guards enforce strict rules on inmate conduct and activities. They must firmly deal with any infractions.

Searching and Counting Inmates

Guards must frequently search cells and common areas for contraband. They also perform multiple daily head counts to ensure no one has escaped.

Inspecting Facilities

Checking fences, walls, doors, locks, and other security measures to identify risks and prevent breaches.

Transporting Inmates

Escorting and restraining inmates whenever they are moved to prevent escapes.

In maximum security prisons, officers come face-to-face with the most predatory and violent members of society. They must be prepared to respond decisively in emergencies and put their own safety on the line at all times. It is an inherently tense and dangerous environment.

Guards also deal with difficult sights and smells in unsanitary settings. And there is often friction and lack of trust between inmates and officers. Threats and verbal harassment directed at guards are common.

Officers must be comfortable working rotating shifts – days, evenings, weekends, and holidays. They spend most of their time on their feet with little chance to sit. It is a high-stress position with immense responsibilities where mistakes can have dire consequences. Maximum security prison guards truly earn every cent they make.

Requirements and Qualifications

Due to the challenging nature of the job, all maximum security prison guards must meet strict standards to get hired:

  • Minimum age of 21 years – Maturity and life experience is required.
  • US citizen – Must pass federal and state-level criminal background checks.
  • High school diploma or GED – Many prisons also require some college coursework or a two-year degree.
  • No felony convictions – Candidates’ criminal records are thoroughly reviewed.
  • Valid state driver’s license – Needed for transport duties.
  • Meet physical standards – Applicants must pass fitness, vision, hearing, and medical exams.
  • Complete academy training – Three to six week program covering security, firearms, self-defense, and other procedures.

Guards should also possess certain personality traits and skills such as:

  • Excellent conflict resolution and communication abilities
  • A commanding presence and authoritative voice
  • The courage to use force when necessary
  • A high tolerance for stress
  • Strong ethics and decision-making
  • Empathy and cultural awareness

Meeting all the demanding criteria required makes finding qualified candidates challenging. But for those suited to the tight-knit prison environment, a career as a correctional officer can be extremely rewarding.

Table of Notable Crimes Committed by Maximum Security Inmates

InmateCrime Convicted ForSentenceNotable Quote at Conviction
John GottiMurder, racketeeringLife without parole“I plead guilty because I thought it was the best deal for me.”
Theodore KaczynskiMail bombingsLife without parole“Your honor, I don’t want to waste your time with this trial.”
Joaquin GuzmanDrug trafficking, murderLife + 30 years“There was no justice here.”
Larry HooverConspiracy, extortion150-200 years“I’m disappointed but I’m not deterred from pursuing justice.”
Dylann RoofHate crime mass murderDeath penalty“I still feel like I had to do it.”

This table provides a sampling of high-profile criminals serving time in maximum security prisons for notorious crimes. It includes their conviction quotes to give a glimpse into the mindsets guards must handle daily. Notorious inmates like these vividly illustrate the types of dangerous individuals that maximum security prison guards interact with regularly. Dealing with such callous, violent offenders adds significant stress and hazard to the job.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main dangers of being a maximum security prison guard?

Guards face many risks including assault by inmates, exposure to diseases, and mental distress from the environment. Violent attacks occur periodically, sometimes leading to permanent injury or death. Guards must always be alert and ready to defend themselves.

Do maximum security guards carry firearms?

Yes, guards are armed with firearms like shotguns, rifles, and sidearms to maintain control. They undergo specialized firearms training to respond to riots, escapes, and hostage situations. Guards may be authorized to use lethal force as a last resort.

Do maximum security prisons use surveillance cameras?

Extensive camera coverage is standard. However, there are inevitable blind spots where altercations can occur outside a camera’s view. So guards still need to directly monitor inmates.

What happens if a maximum security guard is attacked by an inmate?

Attacking or killing a guard results in criminal charges and harsh punishment, including possible life sentences. But additional security protocols may be enacted to prevent future incidents, so lessons are learned when officers are harmed.

Do maximum security guards eat meals with inmates?

No, that only occurs in lower security facilities. Maximum guards have their own break rooms and canteens separated from prisoners for safety reasons. There is very limited interaction during meals.


Working as a guard in a maximum security prison is without a doubt one of the most demanding, dangerous, and psychologically taxing jobs someone can choose to pursue. The nature of the work environment and inmates housed there necessitates very competitive salaries and benefits to attract qualified candidates.

While average annual pay hovers around $45,000, experienced guards can potentially earn over $70,000 with all of the premiums, incentives, and overtime pay their critical role commands. And excellent healthcare, insurance, retirement plans, and paid leave make the total compensation package even more attractive. Candidates who can meet the strict requirements and handle the considerable stresses of the job are virtually guaranteed stable employment with good incomes and benefits for protecting the public from society’s most violent criminal offenders.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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