Nature of the Work
Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a prison facility. Correctional officers maintain security and inmate accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes.
Most correctional officers are employed in 1 of 14 State Department of Corrections prisons, watching over the approximately 13 thousand offenders who are incarcerated there at any given time. Although prisons can be dangerous places to work, prison populations are more stable than jail populations, and correctional officers in prisons know the security and custodial requirements of the prisoners with whom they are dealing.
Regardless of the setting, correctional officers maintain order within the institution and enforce rules and regulations. To help ensure that inmates are orderly and obey rules, correctional officers monitor the activities and supervise the work assignments of inmates. Sometimes, officers must search inmates and their living quarters for contraband like weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline. Correctional officers periodically inspect the facilities, checking cells and other areas of the institution for unsanitary conditions, contraband, fire hazards, and any evidence of infractions of rules. In addition, they routinely inspect locks, window bars, grilles, doors, and gates for signs of tampering. Finally, officers inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items.
Correctional officers report orally and in writing on inmate conduct and on the quality and quantity of work done by inmates. Officers also report security breaches, disturbances, violations of rules, and any unusual occurrences. They usually keep a daily log or record of their activities. Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any inmate who violates the rules. Should the situation arise, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities investigate crimes committed within their institution.
In prison facilities with direct supervision cellblocks, officers’ work unarmed. They are equipped with communications devices so that they can summon help if necessary. These officers often work in a cellblock alone, or with another officer, among the 50 to 100 inmates who reside there. The officers enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal communications skills and through the use of progressive sanctions, such as the removal of some privileges.
In the highest security facilities, where the most dangerous inmates are housed, correctional officers often monitor the activities of prisoners from a centralized control center with closed-circuit television cameras and a computer tracking system. In such an environment, the inmates may not see anyone but officers for days or weeks at a time and may leave their cells only for showers, solitary exercise time, or visitors. Depending on the offenders’ security classification within the institution, correctional officers may have to restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to safely escort them to and from cells and other areas and to see authorized visitors. Officers also escort prisoners between the institution and courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations outside the institution.
What is it like being a correctional officer? A correctional officer provides ongoing supervision of inmates through observation and person-to-person supervision. Correctional officers protect the public daily by keeping our prisons secure and by role modeling appropriate behavior. Correctional officers are credited with creating a safe environment by preventing incidents such as escapes, assaults, and contraband trafficking. Specific duties vary and may include being assigned to towers, gate control, housing units, segregation, recreation, mobile patrol, special details, mail room, inmate work crews, and hospital watches - just to name a few.