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How Much Do Prison Correctional Officers Make?

Prison correctional officers, also known as detention officers or jailers, are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility. Correctional officers play a critical role in maintaining security and order in correctional facilities while also ensuring the safety and well-being of inmates. However, working as a correctional officer can be demanding and dangerous at times. One question many people have is – how much do prison correctional officers actually make for this difficult job? This article will provide a comprehensive overview of correctional officer salaries, duties, requirements, and other key details.

Correctional Officer Salaries

The average annual salary for correctional officers and jailers in the United States is $49,300 per year, according to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, salaries can vary quite a bit based on factors like location, experience level, and type of facility.

Salary by State

There is a wide range in average salaries by state, from over $80,000 per year in some states like California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island down to around $30,000 or less in states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The states with the highest average salaries tend to be those with higher costs of living and stronger unions representing correctional officers.

Salary by Facility Type

Salaries also differ based on the type of correctional facility:

  • Federal prisons – Correctional officers in federal prisons make an average of $63,100 per year according to the BLS, with those working in high security facilities earning up to $72,400 on average.
  • State prisons – The average salary in state facilities tends to be around $51,100 per year. However, there is significant variation among states.
  • Local jails – Correctional officers in city and county jails have lower average salaries around $45,500 per year.
  • Private prisons – Salaries in for-profit private facilities tend to be lower, averaging approximately $41,800 per year.
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Salary by Experience Level

More experienced correctional officers tend to earn significantly higher salaries. For example:

  • Entry-level – Starting salaries often fall in the range of $35,000 – $45,000.
  • 5 years experience – Correctional officers with 5 years on the job average around $55,000 per year.
  • 10+ years experience – Veterans with over a decade of experience can earn over $70,000 in some higher paying states and facilities.

Highest Paying States

The states with the overall highest average salaries for correctional officers are:

  1. California – $84,400
  2. New Jersey – $83,080
  3. Rhode Island – $78,720
  4. New York – $77,200
  5. Connecticut – $76,370

Lowest Paying States

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the states with the lowest salaries are:

  1. Alabama – $34,270
  2. Louisiana – $35,060
  3. Mississippi – $35,240
  4. Arkansas – $36,690
  5. Kentucky – $38,620

While the average salary is just over $49,000 nationally, corrections officers in certain states and facilities can earn over $80,000, while those in the lowest paying areas make $35,000 or less. Overall compensation is closely tied to factors like cost of living, strength of unions, government budgets, and local labor market conditions.

Correctional Officer Job Duties

Correctional officers are responsible for a wide range of duties within correctional facilities:

Security

  • Monitoring inmate activity and enforcing rules
  • Conducting searches of inmates and cells for contraband
  • Inspecting facilities for safety and security vulnerabilities
  • Operating security systems and equipment
  • Supervising inmate meal times, recreation, and other activities
  • Transporting inmates between facilities and to court appointments or medical visits

Safety

  • Responding to emergencies such as fights, escapes, riots, or medical issues
  • Providing first aid when needed before medical personnel arrive
  • Documenting incidents and writing up reports
  • Defusing tension and preventing altercations between inmates

Care

  • Checking in new inmates and processing releases
  • Distributing supplies, medication, and mail to inmates
  • Coordinating inmate access to programs, counseling, or religious services
  • Maintaining cleanliness of facilities
  • Ensuring adequate food, bedding, and access to bathrooms

Administrative

  • Completing daily logs, inmate counts, and shift reports
  • Monitoring inmate calls and correspondence
  • Keeping records updated on inmates and facility operations
  • Reporting security risks, maintenance needs, or other issues

Correctional officers need to be vigilant and prepared to respond to any incident at any time during their shifts. It is a demanding job both physically and mentally.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a correctional officer, there are some minimum education and training requirements:

  • Education – Most facilities require a high school diploma or GED at minimum. Many states are now requiring some college coursework or an associate’s degree as well.
  • Age – Applicants typically must be over 18-21 years old depending on department policies.
  • Training – After being hired, correctional officers complete 2-8 weeks of paid training either on-site or through a corrections academy. Training covers topics like self-defense, emergency response, weapons proficiency, interpersonal communications, inmate management, and more.
  • Licensing – Additional licensing, certifications, or exams may be needed in some states and facilities. For example, federal corrections officers must pass a medical/physical exam and background investigation.
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Proper education and training is key due to the stressful and dangerous nature of the job. Correctional officers must be prepared both mentally and physically.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for correctional officers is quite strong nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of correctional officers is projected to grow 7% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. This will result in about 21,000 new jobs over the decade.

The need for correctional officers is driven by:

  • Increasing prison populations
  • High turnover due to demanding nature of the job
  • Retirements among the aging workforce

In particular, the growing number of aging inmates who require medical care and assisted living facilities is creating more demand. Job prospects should remain strong for qualified applicants with the right education, training, and temperament.

The Pros and Cons of Working as a Correctional Officer

There are both advantages and disadvantages to working as a correctional officer.

Pros

  • Steady government employment with competitive salaries and benefits
  • Potential for salary increases and advancement with experience
  • Variety of work duties and new challenges every day
  • Ability to transition into other criminal justice careers
  • Satisfaction of playing a role in rehabilitation and public safety

Cons

  • Potential for dangerous and stressful situations
  • Dealing with hostile or violent inmates
  • Need to work weekends, holidays and overtime
  • Rigorous background checks and entry requirements
  • May work overnight shifts for lower pay

Overall, correctional officers earn relatively good pay and benefits compared to jobs with similar education requirements. However, the job also comes with significant risks and stresses that must be weighed carefully by anyone considering entering the field.

Table of Notable Correctional Officer Convictions

Here is a table summarizing some notable cases involving the conviction of correctional officers over the past decade:

Officer NameFacilityCrimeYearConvictionQuote from Prosecutors
John AmbroseMetropolitan Correctional Center, ChicagoLeaking classified information2010Convicted of leaking information about a mob informant to organized crime leaders. Sentenced to 4 years in prison.“Ambrose tarnished his badge and blew the cover of a dedicated public servant who was doing his best to make our communities safer.”
Erik RamseyRikers Island, New YorkConspiring to Cover Up Inmate Beating2015Convicted of helping try to cover up the beating of an inmate. Received a 5 year prison sentence.“The officers charged today flouted the public’s trust and corrupted their positions by repeatedly falsifying documents to cover up an assault and lying about it.”
Michael McHugh Jr.Orleans Parish Prison, New OrleansObstruction of Justice2016Pleaded guilty to falsifying records to show he had checked on inmates who died under his watch. Sentenced to 2 months in prison.“When a corrections officer falsifies government records, they place lives at risk and betray the public’s trust.”
Tavon BrownJessup Correctional Institution, MarylandBribery, Drug Trafficking2017Convicted of smuggling drugs and contraband to inmates in exchange for bribes. Sentenced to 8 years in prison.“This kind of corruption endangers fellow correctional officers and the prison population.”
Rafael Alberto+Metropolitan Correctional Center, MiamiSexual Abuse of Inmates2018Pleaded guilty to sexually abusing at least 6 female inmates. Sentenced to 10 years in prison.“The victims in this case were particularly vulnerable since they were incarcerated at the time of the assaults.”

This table illustrates some of the most severe cases of corruption, abuse of power, negligence and criminal activity by correctional officers over the past several years. When officers engage in unlawful conduct, it undermines the entire criminal justice system. These cases resulted in tough prosecutions and prison sentences for the offending officers.

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Key Questions about Correctional Officer Pay and Job Outlook

How much overtime can correctional officers get paid?

Many correctional officers rely heavily on overtime pay to increase their total compensation. Overtime rates are usually time-and-a-half pay. Full-time correctional officers average around 5-15 hours of overtime per week. With staff shortages, OT hours can add $10,000 or more per year.

What benefits do correctional officers receive?

Benefits typically include health insurance, life insurance, paid vacation and sick days, pension plans, and other perks depending on employer. For example, federal corrections officers through the Federal Bureau of Prisons get enhanced overtime pay, law enforcement retirement benefits, and federal student loan repayment assistance up to $10,000 per year.

Do correctional officers get pay raises?

Correctional officers have structured pay scales with regular salary increases based on seniority and performance. Annual raises average around 1-5%. Some facilities offer merit bonuses. Promotions to corporal, sergeant or lieutenant positions also bring pay increases. With overtime, total pay can increase substantially over a career.

Can you transfer to new facilities as a correctional officer?

Transferring between different prisons and jails is an option depending on availability of open positions and seniority. Officers who want to relocate can request a voluntary transfer. Transfers may allow officers to move to locations with higher base pay.

How dangerous is working as a correctional officer?

Correctional officers experience higher injury rates compared to other law enforcement occupations. Injuries can result from confrontations with inmates. Stress and hazards like exposure to diseases is also common. Adherence to strict safety policies is crucial to manage risks on the job.

Conclusion

In summary, the average salary for correctional officers and jailers in the U.S. is approximately $49,300 per year, according to BLS data. Actual salaries vary from over $80,000 in the top paying states like California down to around $30,000 in the lowest paying states. Correctional officers earn their pay through a wide range of demanding and stressful duties focused on security, safety, care of inmates and administrative tasks.

While the work can be hazardous, job demand is projected to continue growing over the next decade. With competitive pay and benefits, room for salary growth over time, and strong job outlook, becoming a correctional officer can be a stable yet exciting career path for those drawn to serve their community in the criminal justice system.

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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