Prison Guard Jobs

By Eric Hammer

Prison guard jobs are typically offered to "correctional officers." Correctional officers (a misnomer at times, but there it is all the same) work for the Department of Corrections, which runs prisons for either the city or state. In the case of the federal government, you would be working for the Bureau of Prisons if you want to get prison guard jobs, however your title would still be "correctional officer."

In all cases, the work is not very glamorous and it entails working odd hours. Typically, correctional officers work shifts of 8 hours each. New York City correctional officers, to offer an example, work 7AM-4PM, 4PM-11PM or 11PM-7AM. Double shifts are commonly required when the prison is short staffed.

You also need to be able to act like a professional in spite of working with people who are sometimes the worst examples of humanity (though not always - many people in prison genuinely do want to reform and start fresh when they get out). This means keeping your cool in heated situations and resisting the ever present temptation to accept bribes in exchange for offering "favors" to the prisoners.

Typically, you will be required to take a number of tests, starting with a written exam. The written exam is usually followed by physical exams where your eyesight and general health are examined. You will also be given a psychological evaluation and you must pass a background check.

How Much Can You Make?

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average salary for prison guard jobs is $53,459. However, this amount is typically how much you'll make after 5-10 years on the job. Starting salaries can be significantly lower, sometimes as little as $25,300 per year.

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Correctional Officers are typically given a uniform allowance as well as a travel allowance to get to and from work. Beyond that, you can request to pull double shifts since you will get time and a half for doing so.

After a number of years of work, you can also apply for promotions in the department, to higher ranks such as lieutenant or captain. You can also get into management positions by becoming an assistant warden or warden.

Remember that prison guard jobs also come with the benefit of being part of the law enforcement community. This means that you are entitled to the "Officer/ Teacher Next Door" program. The program allows you to purchase a HUD foreclosed home in the same neighborhood you work in for 50% of the asking price.

Keep in mind that prison guard jobs are also fairly dangerous work. You may be involved in altercations with inmates where they could cut you with a "shiv" (an improvised knife commonly made in prison) and when transporting inmates, you may be subject to danger from breakout attempts.

Qualifications / Requirements

Different states have different requirements for prison guard jobs, however in general, you will need at least a high school diploma (some states and the Federal prison system also require a bachelor's degree). You must also be in good physical health and posses a valid driver's license. Many departments of corrections also require that you pass a vision test, including a test for color blindness.

First Steps

Start by purchasing a copy of your local civil service newspaper (in New York for example, it's called "The Chief") and check for listings of correctional officer exams being given. They are given sporadically and you must sign up to take them when they are given as jobs are not usually offered on a rolling basis. Take the test. If you pass with a high enough grade (to give you an idea, a few years ago, New York City held a test for correctional officers. About 5,000 people took the exam and around 1,500 passed, however only the top 500 scorers were invited for further testing) you will be called in for further testing.


Education Portal: How to Become a Correctional Officer - A step by step guide which covers many of the basics of getting prison guard jobs.

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