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What Correctional Officers Do

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory, or prison. Typically, offenders serving time at county jails are sentenced to a year or less. Those serving a year or more are usually in state or federal prisons.


Correctional officers typically do the following:

Inside the prison or jail, correctional officers enforce rules and regulations. They maintain security by preventing any disturbances, assaults, or escapes. Correctional officers supervise the daily activities of inmates, ensuring that inmates obey the rules and finish their work. Correctional officers also ensure that they know where all inmates are.

Officers must search inmates for contraband such as weapons or drugs, settle disputes between inmates, and enforce discipline. The officers enforce regulations through effective communication and the use of progressive sanctions, which involve punishments such as loss of privileges. Sanctions are progressive in that they start out small for a lesser or single offense but become more severe for more serious offenses or when repeat offenses occur. In addition, officers may aid inmates in their rehabilitation by scheduling work assignments, counseling, and educational opportunities.

Correctional officers periodically inspect facilities. They check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, contraband, signs of a security breach such as any tampering with window bars or doors, and any other evidence of violations of the rules. Officers also inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. They write reports or fill out daily logs detailing inmate behavior and anything of note that occurred during their shift.

Correctional officers may have to restrain inmates in handcuffs and leg irons to escort them safely 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.

Correctional officers cannot show favoritism and must report any inmate who violates the rules. If a crime is committed within their institution or an inmate escapes, they help the responsible law enforcement authorities investigate or search for the escapee.

Correctional officers have no responsibilities for law enforcement outside of their place of work. For information on other law enforcement occupations, see the profile on police and detectives. For information on counseling offenders outside of prisons, see the profile on probation officers and correctional treatment specialists.

Bailiffs, also known as marshals or court officers, are law enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in courtrooms. Their duties, which vary by location, include enforcing courtroom rules, assisting judges, guarding juries from outside contact, delivering court documents, and providing general security for courthouses.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition