Exploring careers in correctional systems

September 25, 2017 · 6 min read · By ASU Online

The criminal justice field oversees critical public safety functions on a local and national level — with involvement in all aspects of criminal proceedings from initial investigation to sentencing. This industry offers a number of rewarding career paths that serve public and private interests. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to make an impact in criminal justice.


Career opportunities

You might be surprised at how many different career opportunities there are in correctional systems. From positions working directly with inmates to those which shape policies that can stretch through the entire prison system, both entry-level and management opportunities are available. If you’re interested in criminal justice and want to work directly with people to help them lead better lives, a career in corrections is worth considering.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons employs more than 39,000 individuals who are responsible for protecting public safety by ensuring convicted felons serve their time and then re-enter society safely and successfully. The jobs focused on achieving this goal are divided into three categories: inmate custody and programs, operational readiness and support and administration.

A few of the higher-level positions within the correctional system that also have management opportunities and room for growth include the following:

A typical day working in correctional systems

While each of these positions focuses on a different aspect of an inmate’s time, both inside and outside of jail, they all work to help keep inmates safe and secure while putting them on a path toward rejoining society healthy and rehabilitated. The requirements for eligibility vary per role as well but it’s important to have a background in criminal justice. The online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice degree from Arizona State University explores ideas central to these and other professions where strong leadership and a solid understanding of the field is imperative. An advanced degree can give you an advantage in the job market, especially if applying for a management position in the correctional system.

Regardless of your specific position in the correctional system, it’s likely your day will include interacting with inmates or those recently released from prison. A common priority within the field is to help these individuals, whether it is ensuring their safety while incarcerated, assisting them in getting treatment and counseling or providing them with the tools they need to rejoin society. Below are a few details to depict what a typical day could be like in a corrections job.

Any day for a correctional officer or supervisor is busy, filled with myriad tasks to help keep inmates safe, secure and healthy while in prison. Being responsible for enforcing rules and keeping order includes searching for contraband, settling inmate disputes and enforcing necessary disciplinary action. Professionals also regularly inspect prison facilities to ensure they meet security and safety standards.

Working with people who have been released from prison, parole officers help with entry back into society. Daily activities include connecting with parolees via phone, office visits or going directly to their residence. They oversee drug testing and evaluate the safety of parolees’ living quarters. If necessary, parole officers can also help determine any actions that should be taken toward continued rehabilitation for their parolees. Similarly, if offenders are not following their release conditions, parole officers can initiate the process to return them to the correctional facility.

A closer look at the professional landscape of correctional systems

Even though the overall projected job growth rate in correctional systems hovers around 4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunity can be plentiful due to high turnover resulting from retirement and transfers.

The median pay range for entry-level positions within correctional systems is $43,000 to $50,000, according to the BLS. This median salary varies based on educational background and previous work experience.

There are many opportunities for job growth as well. Individuals starting in these positions can pursue management roles within the same area or move into other positions within the criminal justice field. Eligibility for a management role can increase with on-the-job experience as well as a master’s degree such as the online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice offered at Arizona State University.

Case managers.
Work directly with inmates to help develop parole and release plans specific to each individual. They include action items toward continued rehabilitation if needed once inmates leave prison. Case managers also monitor inmates’ histories and the likelihood they’ll commit future crimes.
Correctional officers.
Oversee individuals both awaiting trial and those who have been sentenced to jail time. They enforce prison rules, maintain order within jails or prisons, supervise inmate activities, keep tabs on inmate conduct and aid in the rehabilitation and counseling of prisoners. They also work to ensure the safety and security of the prison itself.
Drug treatment specialists.
Can have the two-fold job of educating inmates on substance abuse treatments and rehabilitation options as well as managing the actual programs and determining whether an inmate is eligible to participate.
Parole officers.
Work with individuals after they’ve been released from prison, helping them successfully re-enter society. By sharing resources with their parolees and checking in with them regularly, officers attempt to reduce the risk of them committing another crime.
Probation officers.
Work with individuals convicted of criminal offenses but who have been given the opportunity by the court to remain in the community.  With roles very similar to parole officers, probation officers refer offenders to treatment programs, check in with them regularly, and assist offenders in reducing their risk of recidivism.

Becoming a correctional system employee

People skills are extremely important for individuals interested in exploring career options in the correctional system. You should be a good communicator and negotiator, calm under pressure and excel at working with a variety of people. You need a strong attention to detail as well as an understanding of the processes and procedures that make up correctional systems. Having a solid foundation in criminal justice could help you develop skills and build knowledge that may lead to a successful career in corrections. Some additional skills that are good to have in this field include:

  • Good judgment
  • Self-discipline
  • Physical strength
  • Emotional stability
  • Decision-making and critical thinking

In addition to the skills and educational background you bring into your role in corrections, you’ll most likely have to go through an internal training program that could have a certification component. For example, probation officers, parole officers and case managers complete a training program sponsored by the state or federal government. Becoming a correctional officer may require certification after training is completed. Once formal training concludes, on-the-job training occurs over several weeks or months.


Ready to learn more about your potential correctional system career?

Pursuing a career in criminal justice can help you become part of a community of police, correctional and parole officers, federal agents and many more professionals. No matter which career path in criminal justice interests you, you can learn more about expanding your qualifications in the online criminal justice master’s program from Arizona State University. This advanced degree explores the core tenets of criminal justice that may be applied along your career path in correctional systems.


Parole officer sharing resources with female offender
ASU male student in cap and gown smiling at fellow graduate


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