14 Pros and Cons of Being a Correctional Officer

Correctional Officer

Are you thinking about becoming a correctional officer?

Read on for the truth about this job.

I was a CO for three years, and it was not what I expected. 

This article will give you an honest breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly when working as a correctional officer.

My list of seven pros and seven cons will give you a good idea if you can survive this job.

First, we will start with the positives, and there are quite a few but not always what you expect.

Pros of Being a Correctional Officer

1. Job security

 You can have exceptional job security as a correctional officer.

 Prisons and jails have very high staff turnover rates, so they are slow to fire people.

In addition, when you work for the city, state, county, or federal government, they have strict drawn-out procedures for firing.

 You almost have to want to be fired to lose your job as a correctional officer.

 In the United States, there are 2 million people who are being held in 102 federal prisons, 1,566 state prisons, 2,850 city jails,186 immigration detention centers, and 82 Tribal county jails.

This means there are plenty of places to find a job as a correctional officer.

2. Defined work hours

In many jobs, you end up working outside of work hours.

You can find yourself answering emails or taking piles of paperwork home.

As a correctional officer, once you walk out the prison’s front gates, your work is done.

You will never have duties or tasks outside of work hours and there is no unpaid overtime.

3. Career pathway

Being a corrections officer does not have many options for promotion.

You can become a lieutenant or a supervisor, and not many make it to the top job of being a warden. 

However, if you use being a correctional officer as a stepping stone to working for law enforcement it can be a great job.

It can also look great on your resume if you want to be a psychologist, drug addiction counselor, social worker, or even a lawyer.

4. Tight-knit community

Like being a firefighter or lawman, the inherent danger in this job bonds you with your fellow workers deeper than most jobs.

People at work are friendly and cooperative because you are a team and genuinely need each other. 

Your co-workers will be much more loyal than in other fields, and it can be great to feel like you are part of one giant family.

5. Job satisfaction

This is a difficult job that no one wants to do.

However, correction officers are much needed.

You are protecting society from murderers and drug dealers so people can live peacefully.

You are doing a service for your community, giving excellent job satisfaction.

It gives your life meaning, and you know you are needed and wanted in your community. 

People give you respect for doing a tough job. 

You will be treated as an authority figure. 

Most people find this gives them job satisfaction.

6. Easy to get hired

You do not need any work experience or education beyond a high school diploma to be a correctional officer.

Most of the training is on the job. 

Depending on the prison system, you will do either very little or a bit of on-the-job training, but you will be paid for this.

So, for people who do not have any skills or training or education, this is a job you can get hired for quickly and make a decent living.

7. Great benefits

 The benefits of working for the government are the best part of the job.

Like in the military, you can retire at age 50 if you have 20 years on the job and any age after working for 25 years.

 If you take this job right out of high school, you can retire at 43.

You get great medical, dental, and retirement benefits when working for the government. 

The only exception is if you work for private jails, but they usually have competitive benefits.

Cons of Being a Correctional Officer

1. Difficult work hours

This is around-the-clock shift work.

Prisons are almost always understaffed, and you will be pressured to take overtime shifts.

If you do not accept the overtime, you leave your workmates in danger.

I found myself working 60-hour weeks when I didn’t want to, which took a toll on my family.

2. Dangerous

You are risking your life every day.

This statement is not an exaggeration.

Just breaking up fights alone can kill you.

Then there is the risk of being taken hostage.

Death and injuries may not happen often, but they occur more than in regular jobs, and the pay does not reflect the risk.

There is a much higher incidence of disease among the prison population, and you are in incredibly close contact with them.

You will be searching their cells and bodies daily, which is dangerous on many levels.

You could encounter something hidden that cuts you or catch a disease.

3. Possible Criminal Charges

This is one thing that people do not think about when they take this job. 

There is a greater chance of going to prison if you do something wrong at work.

When I worked as a correctional officer, I saw more than one co-worker get arrested and led out in handcuffs.

That is to say nothing of the internal investigations. 

There is a great temptation to make extra money by bringing in contraband for the prisoners, and that is just one way you can get a prison sentence when you work as a correctional officer.

4. Mental Health Issues

 The rates of depression and PTSD are much higher among corrections officers than in most jobs.

 It is depressing to see people locked up and hopeless.

 It grinds you down to see the weak get preyed upon constantly.

Then there are the suicides, the fights, and the constant revolving door of people coming back. 

Finally, there is a lot of anger and frustration directed at you because you enforce the rules.

Being disliked and even hated by so many people every day takes its toll.

Add the unsocial working hours, and you have a recipe for stress-related mental health issues. 

5. Lousy food

 Most prisons are in isolated rural areas.

There are no restaurants or convenience stores nearby.

There is always a canteen, but you eat the same food as the inmates, cooked by the inmates.

It is free food, and there is plenty of it.

It can be surprisingly tasty, but you will get sick of it quickly.

Just be prepared to eat bagged lunches and take all your breaks within the prison.

There is no popping out for a coffee or a snack.

6. Poor working conditions

 You will be in a depressing concrete jungle that smells horrible for most of your day.

You are surrounded by barbed wire and have no view when inside. 

You work daily with psychopaths, drug addicts, and damaged people who do not reason well. 

The inmates are constantly looking for a way to gain the upper hand over you.

They whine, cajole and bully.

This lousy behavior can wear you down, and it is exhausting.

7. Boring work

 This is a very dull job.

 You will do the same tasks repeatedly.

 For example: checking that every inmate is in their cell and counted four times a day.

 You will walk past every cell at night and make sure the inmates are alive once an hour.

 You will do nothing but sit and keep watch while the inmates sleep in between these counts.

 You will just be watching inmates do nothing most of the time.

Pros and Cons of Being a Correctional Officer – Summary Table

Pros of Being a Correctional OfficerCons of Being a Correctional Officer
1. Job security1. Difficult work hours
2. Defined work hours2. Dangerous
3. Career pathway3. Possible Criminal Charges
4. Tight-knit community4. Mental Health Issues
5. Job satisfaction5. Lousy food
6. Easy to get hired6. Poor working conditions
7. Great benefits7. Boring work

Should you become a prison officer?

 Avoid this job if you get bored quickly or have a weak stomach.

 Likewise, do not take this job if you need to be liked or are a pushover.

 If you are not physically fit, I would also avoid this job as it can be too dangerous.

 If you do not keep a cool head in emergencies, this is not a promising career for you.

This job is great if you have no skills and need to make more than minimum wage.

However, it is not for the faint of heart.

To work as a correctional officer, you have to be tough yet compassionate.

I recommend it for people who want to help their community and are not easily manipulated.

It is an excellent job if you have no other skills or further education.

A job as a correctional officer can be a great stepping stone to a career in law enforcement.

Overall, the risks you take are not in line with the pay, and there is not enough support for mental health and stress issues in this job.

Therefore, I would not recommend this as a career to anyone, but it can be a great transition job.

It will give you an incredible experience of dealing with difficult people and building your character. 

Jamie Willis