Corrections in its broadest sense describes all restrictions that the government imposes on people who commit crimes: incarceration in jails or prisons, placement under formal supervision programs such as probation and parole, rehabilitation and diversion programs, halfway houses and group homes, and the like.
Because corrections includes such a broad range of activities, and our criminal court system produces many criminal convictions each year, there are a lot of people working in the field, performing a broad range of jobs that come with a broad range of educational requirements and salaries. That by itself is a good reason to consider whether it’s the right field for you.
If you are contemplating working in corrections, you should be aware of two trends:
- The number of people incarcerated in jails and prisons has begun falling, after many years of steady increases, although the total number is still very large.
- Use of private prisons, especially by state governments, has been growing, though it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of total inmates.
Corrections versus Law Enforcement
At first glance, corrections may seem a lot like law enforcement, but the two fields differ in important ways. The most obvious difference is that law enforcement is devoted to stopping, investigating, and solving crimes, whereas corrections is concerned only with the consequences of the crime. A less obvious difference is that law enforcement is primarily a local government job, although state and federal governments also play a part; corrections is mostly a state job, although, again, local and federal governments also play a part.
Where the Corrections Jobs Are
Most people aren’t aware of how many Americans are under some form of supervision for having committed crimes. In 2006, it was estimated that “one of every forty-three Americans is under some form of correctional supervision.” Most people would also be surprised to learn that the large majority of those under supervision are on some form of community release, rather than locked away in jails and prisons. The same 2006 report found the following portion of offenders under the various forms of supervision:
- Prison: 27.6%
- Jail: 9.2%
- Probation: 53.1%
- Parole: 10%
The number of Americans in prisons and jails was estimated to be over 1.7 million at the end of 2008 (128,524 of them in privately run institutions).
What the Corrections Jobs Are
The vast majority of corrections jobs are in prisons, jails, probation programs, and parole programs. Within each of those forms of correction, there are jobs ranging from those who directly guard or transport prisoners to those who supervise other guards, from professional level counselors to administrators and clerical support.
The two most common jobs are correctional officer and probation officer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were just under half a million correctional officer jobs in 2010, with a future projected growth rate of 5 percent, and another 93,000 jobs for probation officers and related correctional treatment specialists, with a projected future growth rate of 18 percent.
As of May, 2011, the median pay for these jobs was:
- Correctional officer—$38,900 per year ($18.75 per hour)
- First-line correctional officer supervisor—$55,030 per year ($26.46 per hour)
- Probation officer and correctional treatment specialist—$47,840 per year ($23.00 per hour)
Probation officers generally need a bachelor’s degree at the entry level. Correctional officers often need only a high school diploma at the base entry level, but academic credentials become important if you hope to advance up the ranks to a supervisory or management position.