Learn How to Become a Prison Guard

First, decide whether you want to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons or your state's Department of Corrections or local prison or a private prison. Keep in mind that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Prison Guards/Correctional Officers were paid the highest salaries with State Department of Corrections Prison Guards ranking as the second highest paid followed by local and private prison facility prison guards.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has specific requirements for their Prison Guards/Correctional Officers including a bachelor's (4-year) degree requirement to be hired on at the GS-05 pay grade and master's level course work to be hired at the GS-06 pay grade. Most state Department of Corrections require just the high school diploma or equivalent education. Read more about Federal and State Prison Guard requirements below or visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons or your state's Department of Corrections website to learn more about specific requirements for prison guards.

Side Note: Prison Guards are often referred to as Correctional Officers and in many cases prefer this title to Prison Guard.

Prison Guard Requirements

Federal Prison Guards must not have reached their 37th birthday by the time they are appointed to the Prison Guard position, must be a United States Citizen (exceptions are made for hard to fill vacancies), must pass a background investigation (no felony convictions) and a physical fitness test. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, qualifications for Prison Guards hired at the GS-05 pay grade include a bachelor's (4-year) degree from an accredited school (Find criminal justice and related bachelor's (4-year) degree programs) or 3 years of full-time work experience in a position that required one or a combination of the following duties providing assistance, guidance, and direction to individuals, counseling, responding to emergencies, managing people, teaching or selling products or services.

As mentioned before, State Corrections Departments have varying requirements for their prison guards that can be found on their websites. It is common for the State Department of Corrections to require a high school diploma or equivalent and for applicants to be US Citizens and 21 years of age at appointment to the position, no felony convictions, good physical condition and eligible to carry a firearm. Desirable qualifications include a college degree (associate's or bachelor's or master's degree) preferably in the field of criminal justice, which can lead to management positions and other higher paying positions within the corrections system or outside the corrections system. Other desirable qualifications include holding POST certifications, experience supervising people and military or law enforcement experience.

Below you can find a variety of accredited colleges and universities that offer associate's, bachelor's and master's programs in criminal justice and related fields. Again, learn more about specific prison requirements through your state's Department of Corrections, your local government prison or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Prison Guard Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for correctional officers is $38,970. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. The BLS reports that job growth for correctional officers is 5 percent through 2020, which is slower than average for all occupations, even though demand may come from population growth.

Online Criminal Justice Schools

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Campuses: Online

Degrees Offered:

  • BSCJ - Corrections
  • MSCJ - Corrections

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Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.
Earning a degree may not qualify you for specialized careers that require more education or experience in the field.