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Can a Felon Become a Correctional Officer?

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Getting a job after their release from prison is extremely challenging.  Careers may be gone.

While felons may think no one will hire them, there are resources available.

They may have to be willing to begin a different career.

This blog post will address the issue of whether a felon can become a correctional officer.

  • What is a Correctional Officer?
  • What Education/Training Does a Correctional Officer Need?
  • How Much Does a Correctional Officer Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Correctional Officer?

A correctional officer is a person that enforces rules and regulations in local jails, state prisons, and Federal penitentiaries.  They provide for the safety and welfare of inmates.

A correctional officer stops violent confrontations, ensures order, and works in rehabilitation of inmates.  They supervise inmates during daily activities such as mealtime, work, and recreation.

Typical requirements to become a correctional officer include:

  • S. citizen
  • At least 18 years old and 21 in some states
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • No felony conviction
  • Minor misdemeanors in some states
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Physically capable of doing the job
  • Eligible to carry a concealed weapon in some states

Most states conduct a background check on applicants.

The background check includes:

  • Fingerprints for identity
  • Verification of references
  • Drug test
  • Credit report
  • Criminal History

There are certain skills essential to be successful as a correctional officer:

  • Critical thinking to quickly handle and solve problems
  • Self-discipline to cope with stressful situations
  • Good communications and interpersonal skills to deal with members of the correctional staff as well as the inmates
  • Good judgment to make sound decisions for the best results
  • Negotiation skills to avoid or resolve conflicts
  • Physical strength to subdue or restrain inmates

What Education/Training Does a Correctional Officer Need?

Many jobs in the correctional field prefer a candidate have a bachelor’s degree or at least three years’ work experience in correctional work or related experience.

Job requirements may vary according to the city or state, but there are basic steps to follow.

Once an applicant has been accepted for a position within the correctional system, typically they will have to take and pass an exam to be admitted to a correctional officer training program.

Usually this exam involves a written part, physical examination, and often a psychological assessment as well.

Those without proper prior experience such as military service will have to seek education from a community college, trade school, or training facility.

A training program can take as long as a few weeks to a few months.  A candidate will be educated in areas like weapons, handling inmates, self-defense, safety, crisis management, and physical conditioning.

After being hired for a position as a correctional officer, candidates will be admitted to an academy for extensive training as a correctional officer.

Correctional officer academy education includes classroom work in:

  • Offender rights, privileges, and responsibilities
  • Community safety
  • Offender disciplinary procedures
  • Communication skills
  • Self-defense
  • Environmental procedures
  • Firearms training
  • Preventing violence
  • Riot prevention and control
  • Use of restraints
  • First aid and CPR
  • Report writing
  • Suicide prevention

While these are general requirements, anyone wanting to become a correctional officer at the Federal level with the BOP has additional criteria to meet:

  • No older than 36
  • Have a bachelor’s degree
  • May substitute three years’ experience in related work instead of a college degree

How Much Does a Correctional Officer Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 493,000 correctional officers.

State government employs 237,000 correctional officers with 158,000 in city and county facilities, and 16,500 in federal prisons.

This occupation is expected to show a 6% growth by 2024 due to increasing demands in correctional facilities.

The average annual salary for a correctional officer was $43,500 in 2016.  The bottom 10% earned less than $27,000 while the top 10% made more than $69,600.

Experience, specialization, and geographic location could have a significant impact on these earnings.  Correctional officers working for the Bureau of Prisons at the Federal level have the highest earning capacity.

Those correctional officers working in New Jersey, California, and New York have the highest salaries.  Generally, a correctional officer on the East or West coast receives a higher salary than for one in other areas.

An Opportunity for Felons?

In order to become a correctional officer, an applicant must have a” clean” criminal record.

Any felony conviction appearing on a background check will disqualify an individual from being a correctional officer.

For misdemeanors, some states will allow those who have had minor offenses if the sentence, including probation and any restitution, has been completed.

Anyone with a felony or misdemeanor drug offense will be ineligible for this career.  Most with a domestic violence offense will probably be denied.

For driving offenses, most states do not require a clean driving record.  There are states that will allow no more than two DUI’S.

In order to be successful in their pursuit of becoming a correctional officer, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background.  Lying about their conviction will prevent them from becoming a correctional officer.

Felons deserve the chance to show they can be good employees.

If a felony isn’t disclosed but found on doing a background check, this constitutes fraud and is a punishable crime which would require an attorney and could result in their being sent back to prison.

They are already viewed as being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a correctional officer.

Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that they have not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

While it may seem hopeless, it doesn’t have to be.  It would be a difficult road to travel, but for some felons it might be worth it.

They might have wanted to work in the correctional field before they went to prison, but things didn’t work out for a number of reasons.

That doesn’t have to stop them.  There are measures they can take.  First, having their record expunged will be necessary for a felon to consider this pursuit.

Then, it would be beneficial to document any programs, education, or training they have completed.

Support from family and friends would help, as these are the people that have been there for them.

A felon doesn’t have to be defined by their crime.  They can begin again and establish an honest life.  It is worth it no matter how long it takes.

What do you think about this blog post?  Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a correctional officer with a felony?  What was that like for them, and how did they achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.

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