There are all types of correctional facilities at the county, state and federal levels. The correctional officers who work in these facilities have similar duties, that is, they have to supervise inmates and keep order within the prison. There are also various levels of positions, from the entry level position of prison guard or custodian, to managerial positions.
All prisons require their officers to be at least 18 to 21 years of age, but since these organizations tent to have various educational and training requirements, the age at entry level is seldom 18 or 19 and is usually only encountered in rural local jails (Williams, 2010). Most correctional facilities require that their correction officers be at least 21 years old at the time of appointment. For example, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requires that their correctional officers have at least a bachelor’s degree to be hired at the GS-05 pay grade and at least a Master’s to be hired at the GS-06 level (Public Safety Careers). In contrast, state Department of Correction facilities only require a high school diploma or equivalent; thus, there is at least a four-year difference between Federal Bureau of Prisons employees and state Department of Correction employees. One special age requirement for Federal Prison Guards is that they must be less than 37 years old at the time that they get their appointment to work as prison guards (Public Safety Careers). The rationale for this requirement is that a critical part of the prison guard’s duties is to serve as deterrence by their very presence, and since the average inmate is in his prime, regarding age, the prison guard must command at least a moderate amount of fear and as well as considerable respect.
One reason for the lower age requirement of state and county jails as compared to Federal prisons is that law enforcement is costly and hiring at a younger age can help cut costs (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In addition, inmates in state and county jails tend to serve shorter sentences and there is a large turnover, so in some respect these populations are easier to control and maintain and the duties can be delegated to younger, less experienced correction officers. Furthermore, inmates in state and county prisons have a strong motivation to behave for this is often tied to earlier release, another factor that makes the supervision of state and county prisoners an easier task than in Federal prisons.
Other conditions for the job of correction officer include the lack of felony convictions, the passing of a strenuous physical examination, and eligibility to carry a firearm. People with a college degree, at any level, and particularly a degree in the filed of law or criminal justice are given preference. This tends to raise the age level higher, particularly since managerial and other higher positions require some degree of college education. People in the military or with previous law enforcement experience are also given priority, which again translates into a higher age at entry. However, regardless of whether we are considering a county, state or Federal correctional facility, the trend has been for stricter requirements for the position of correctional officer, including more extensive training. (Williams, 2010). Higher educated correctional officers and those who come to the job from the military or from other organizations that have a strong structure and that are known to instill strict discipline in their people have been found to cope better with the job demands of an incarceration facility.
Public Safety Careers. Access at: http://www.publicsafetyinfo.org/index.php/corrections
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jails. Access at: www.bls.gov
Williams, E. (2010). The big house in a small town: Prisons, communities, and economics in rural America. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Avaliable at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1580533