Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. Bailiffs, also known as marshals or court officers, are law enforcement officers who maintain safety and order in courtrooms. Their duties, which vary by court, include enforcing courtroom rules, assisting judges, guarding juries, delivering court documents, and providing general security for courthouses.

Duties

Correctional officers typically do the following:

  • Enforce rules and keep order within jails or prisons
  • Supervise activities of inmates
  • Inspect facilities to ensure that they meet security and safety standards
  • Search inmates for contraband items
  • Report on inmate conduct
  • Escort and transport inmates

Bailiffs typically do the following:

  • Ensure the security of the courtroom
  • Enforce courtroom rules
  • Follow court procedures
  • Escort judges, jurors, witnesses, and prisoners
  • Handle evidence and court documents

Inside the prison or jail, correctional officers enforce rules and regulations. They maintain security by preventing disturbances, assaults, and escapes, and by inspecting facilities. They check cells and other areas for unsanitary conditions, contraband, signs of a security breach (such as tampering with window bars and doors), and other rule violations. Officers also inspect mail and visitors for prohibited items. They write reports and fill out daily logs detailing inmate behavior and anything else 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 to see authorized visitors. Officers also escort prisoners to courtrooms, medical facilities, and other destinations.

Bailiffs’ specific duties vary by court, but their primary duty is to maintain order and security in courts of law. They enforce courtroom procedures that protect the integrity of the legal process. For example, they ensure that attorneys and witnesses do not influence juries outside of the courtroom, and they also may isolate juries from the public in some circumstances. As a neutral party, they may handle evidence during court hearings to ensure that only permitted evidence is displayed.

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Work Environment

Bailiffs held about 19,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of bailiffs were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                72%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 27

Correctional officers and jailers held about 434,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of correctional officers and jailers were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 55%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                36
Facilities support services 5
Federal government 4

Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors, and bailiffs generally work in courtrooms. They both may be required to stand for long periods.

Injuries and Illnesses

Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and dangerous. Correctional officers and jailers may become injured in confrontations with inmates, and they have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

The job demands that officers be alert and ready to react throughout their entire shift.

Work Schedules

Correctional officers usually work full time on rotating shifts. Because jail and prison security must be provided around the clock, officers work all hours of the day and night, including weekends and holidays. Many officers are required to work overtime. Bailiffs’ hours are determined by when court is in session.

Education and Training

Correctional officers and bailiffs typically attend a training academy. Although qualifications vary by state and agency, all agencies require a high school diploma. Federal agencies may also require some college education or previous work experience.

Many agencies establish a minimum age for correctional officers, which is typically between 18 and 21 years of age.

Education

Correctional officers and bailiffs must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

For employment in federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires entry-level correctional officers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of full-time experience in a field providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals.

Training

Correctional officers and bailiffs complete training at an academy. Training typically lasts several months, but this varies by state. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training maintains links to states’ Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) programs. Academy trainees receive instruction in a number of subjects, including self-defense, institutional policies, regulations, operations, and security procedures.

Personality and Interests

Correctional officers typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a correctional officer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Correctional officers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Good judgment. Officers must use both their training and common sense to quickly determine the best course of action and to take necessary steps to achieve a desired outcome.

Interpersonal skills. Correctional officers must be able to interact and effectively communicate with inmates and others to maintain order in correctional facilities and courtrooms.

Negotiating skills. Officers must be able to assist others in resolving differences to avoid conflict.

Physical strength. Correctional officers must have the strength to physically subdue inmates.

Resourcefulness. Correctional officers often encounter dangerous and unpredictable situations that require a quick response. They must determine the best practical approach to solving a problem and follow through with it.

Self discipline. Correctional officers must control their emotions when confronted with hostile situations.

Pay

The median annual wage for bailiffs was $47,830 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,900.

The median annual wage for correctional officers and jailers was $45,180 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,740, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,090.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for bailiffs in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $69,130
Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                  42,610

In May 2019, the median annual wages for correctional officers and jailers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $58,020
Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                  46,020
State government, excluding education and hospitals 44,090
Facilities support services 39,410

Correctional officers usually work full time on rotating shifts. Because jail and prison security must be provided around the clock, officers work all hours of the day and night, including weekends and holidays. Many officers are required to work overtime. Bailiffs’ hours are determined by when court is in session.

Job Outlook

Employment of correctional officers and bailiffs is projected to decline 7 percent from 2018 to 2028. State and local budget constraints and prison population levels will determine how many correctional officers are necessary.

Although correctional officers will continue to be needed to watch over the U.S. prison population, changes to criminal laws can have a large effect on how many people are arrested and incarcerated each year.

Faced with high costs for keeping people in prison, many state governments have moved toward laws requiring shorter prison terms and alternatives to prison. While keeping the public safe, community-based programs designed to rehabilitate prisoners and limit their risk of repeated offenses may also reduce prisoner counts.

Bailiffs will continue to be needed to keep order in courtrooms.

Job Prospects

Despite the projected decline in employment, job prospects should still be good due to the need to replace correctional officers who retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force.

For More Information

For more information about Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), visit

International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training

For more information about career opportunities for correctional officers at the federal level, visit

Federal Bureau of Prisons

For more information about federal government requirements for correctional officers, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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