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What skills are necessary for a correctional officer?

Asked Portland, Oregon

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Gary’s Answer

Updated

Afternoon Sabina,


The first step to becoming a correctional officer is to apply. I believe Oregon has county run correctional facilities (where you would apply through the county's sheriff department), and state run through the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC). In many states, and unfortunately I'm not too current with Oregon, the difference between county and state corrections is the time and severity of the offender/inmate. County facilities usually hold people while they're going through the court process (they're referred to as detainees), and the county facility will also lodge people who are serving under a certain period of time (typically no more than 18 months/2 years to serve). State run facilities are for offenders/inmates who have been convicted, are serving more than 18 months/2 years, or have a very serious crime (murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, etc). State run facilities are able to lodge people who require a higher custody level (meaning the pose a risk of flight/escape from a less secure correctional facility). Let's also through into the mix the Federal system - the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP will lodge offenders convicted of federal crimes - kidnapping, trafficking drugs, trafficking weapons, etc... Just like the county and state corrections - they will typically have one facility designed to hold detainees, then once sentenced they'll be shipped to a different facility somewhere in the United States. The Boston Marathon Bomber is being held in Colorado at the feds super-max correctional facility. The BOP will also lodge those convicted of white collar crimes (like Martha Stewart) or organized crime (like John Gotti).


The difference between the three departments is typically money and better benefits:


County run facilities typically pay the least (which even then is still pretty good pay compared to most). They'll have a benefits package (including health insurance, dental, retirement, etc...), but you might have to pay more than the other departments. There's room for advancement with county facilities, but typically within the facility itself.


State DOC typically pays better, and offers better benefits (or at least cheaper for the employee). You might have to travel farther to get to a State facility, which can end up costing a bit more for commuting. There's typically more room for advancement with the State, where you could eventually move into the field as a probation & parole officer, or even move into the central office (DOC headquarters) where you could develop policies and procedures for the DOC, or become facility director or some other high level position.


Federal BOP - okay, these guys pay the best, and have the better benefits package. However, when the federal government have their occasional government shut-down (when the folks in DC can't agree on the budget) then the guys at the BOP are working for free. There is a lot of room for advancement with the BOP - not only within the correctional facilities, but also in the community working for other departments such as the US Marshals (these guys do the transports for the BOP and federal probation), or any other federal agency.


Here's the good news - the skills are the same for every agency! You need to have a high school diploma (as the very least), be over the age of 18, have no criminal background (usually best to avoid traffic violations like speeding tickets as well), and have the right attitude. What's the right attitude? Believing that people are capable of change. It's called corrections because we're trying to correct negative behavior.  As a correctional officer you’re assigned to a block/housing unit//living unit/building/etc (all terms used to describe one particular housing section of a correctional facility) – essentially, you’re a police officer and the living unit is the community.  We don’t have to like what an offender did to get themselves incarcerated, but just because they’re in jail we don’t have to treat them as animals.  It’s difficult at times, especially some of the more heinous crimes, but we need to treat them with dignity and respect (though that has to be earned with some folks) – after all, they are at the correctional facility to pay their debt to society, no need to kick them when they’re down.  You also need to be able to enforce the rules despite any stories they may tell – many incarcerated offenders have anti-social personalities, even sociopaths – manipulation and deceit are common for them.  Expect some to use physical intimidation as a tactic to get what they want, but you’re training will help you stand your grand, or call for help.  You need to be alert and mindful of your surroundings – some of the offender’s can get rather creative with ways of getting in trouble – toilet bowl wine is not just a joke in the movies, it happens!!! 


This is just a brief list of the traits and skills required for the position. I don’t want to overwhelm you, or have you change your mind as it can be a very rewarding career! If you are still interested in this line of work and want more information, please don’t hesitate to ask! Good Luck 😊