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How Much Do Prison Guards Make?

Working as a correctional officer or prison guard is a demanding and dangerous job, but an important one for maintaining safety and order in jails and prisons. So how much do these frontline staff earn? Salaries for prison guards vary depending on location, experience, and job role. This article examines the typical pay and benefits correctional officers can expect.

Base Salary Range

The average base salary for a prison guard in the U.S. ranges from approximately $35,000 to $55,000 annually. This equates to $17 to $27 hourly. Entry-level officers start at the lower end while veterans earn towards the top.

Salaries also range widely depending on the state or facility:

  • Federal prisons pay the highest average at $55,000.
  • State prisons pay around $45,000.
  • Local jails and detention centers pay the least, around $35,000.

Here is an overview of the base salary scale:

Experience LevelAverage Base Salary
5 years$42,000
10 years$51,000
20+ years$55,000

Higher cost of living areas also pay more. California officers average $73,000 compared to $30,000 in Louisiana.

Additional Earnings and Benefits

With overtime, bonuses, and benefits, total compensation can exceed base salary by 25-50%:

  • Overtime – Officers often work overtime to cover staffing needs, earning time-and-a-half wages. This can add thousands per year.
  • Bonuses – Some prisons offer hiring, retention, or performance bonuses. Special ops units get hazard pay.
  • Pension – State and federal prisons provide defined benefit pension plans worth over $1 million lifetime.
  • Health Insurance – Prisons provide medical and dental benefits, often with minimal employee premiums.
  • Paid Leave – Officers earn 2+ weeks of vacation plus sick days and holidays annually.
  • Tuition Reimbursement – Many systems offer reimbursement for job-related education and training.
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Total compensation with overtime and benefits can reach $70,000-100,000 for veteran guards.

Career Advancement Increases

Prison guards have clear paths to advance in role and pay:

  • Corporal/Sergeant – An initial promotion to a lead officer role oversees cell blocks. This earns approximately 10% above base pay.
  • Lieutenant – Lieutenants manage sergeants and directly oversee officer teams. The pay increase is around 20%.
  • Captain – Facility or unit captains are responsible for all correctional operations within their scope. Salary increases 30-40% above entry-level.
  • Administrator – Executive roles like warden or commissioner are appointed positions earning six-figure salaries.

Advancement provides incremental pay increases through the ranks. With promotions, 30+ year veterans can potentially earn over $100,000 annually.


Prison guard salaries range widely from $35,000 for entry-level jail officers to over $100,000 for those highly experienced or in executive roles. Average compensation is $50,000 – $70,000 overall. While challenging, corrections provides stable pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities. Officers earn respectable wages in return for keeping prisons and inmates secure.

FAQs About Prison Guard Pay

How much overtime do guards typically work?

Overtime varies, but officers average 5-15 hours monthly. However, some may work up to 25 overtime hours in busy facilities that are understaffed.

Do guards receive hazardous duty pay?

Some systems provide bonus hazardous duty pay for officers working in high risk areas like maximum security or special housing units.

What are the earning caps for guards?

With overtime and promotions, salaries can reach up to $80-100k. But most officers will earn between $50-70k over a long career.

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How much do private prison guards earn?

Private prisons usually pay 10-30% less than public facilities. Guards may earn only $30-40k base pay plus limited benefits.

Do jails or prisons pay better?

State and federal prisons pay substantially more than local jails. Prisons require higher qualifications and are more dangerous.

How much higher are supervisor salaries?

Supervisory roles like lieutenant or captain earn 20-40% above officer pay. Executive salaries are 50-100% higher.

Can guards easily transfer between states and systems?

Transferring can be difficult due to variation in requirements, but veteran experience is valuable if minimum qualifications are met.

Prison Inside Team

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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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