Friday, April 18, 2008


A Career in Corrections

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) manual of the Bureau of Labor Statistics has four jobs specialized to a career in corrections. These jobs are in addition to managerial, maintenance and institutional food service jobs that are found in many sectors of the economy. They are specialized to corrections because 96 to 99 percent of them are in state and local government. A career in corrections is also a career in government.

As of the May 2006 Occupational Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 37.4 thousand first line supervisors of correctional officers, 417.8 thousand correctional officers and jailers, 17.9 thousand bailiffs, and 89.7 thousand probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. All have growing employment with more jobs than 2000. Only jobs in education and teaching outnumber corrections employment in state and local government, which is the second leading employment in state and local government.

Total employment in the four corrections jobs comes to 562.8 thousand jobs, but those are the jobs keeping and managing prisoners. There are more jobs getting them there. Police patrol officers, police detectives, criminal investigators, lawyers, judges, magistrates, hearing officers, counselors, and social workers. Prisons support work in the construction industry and sales of guns, bullets, vests, shields, helmets, batons.

These jobs depend on prisoners, which are in the millions and on the rise. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports prison data on their Website. Between 1980 and 2006 the prison population increased every single year at an average yearly rate of 6.11 percent, a 367 percent increase over the 26-year period. Add the prison population to the jail population and the total incarcerated is just over 2.26 million in 2006. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 7.2 million Americans under correctional supervision, or 2.26 million in prisons and jails, 765 thousand on parole and 4.1 million on probation for 2004.

For the prison population to grow as it is the number sentenced and admitted must be bigger than the number released. But in the 1990’s the number released began increasing toward a half million a year. Undoubtedly some of those released already had a prison record, but a half million prison releases a year implies a rapid increase of people with a record, people who will need jobs. Those under correctional supervision already total 4.7 percent of the civilian workforce, but those on parole, probation or with a criminal record are rising rapidly and much more than 4.7 percent of the labor force.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job prospects in corrections will be excellent. They are forecasting the need to replace correctional officers who leave for other jobs or retirement and their expectation of rising employment demand are cited as the reasons. If past trends in both employment and prisoners, they are correct in their forecast.

Median salaries tend to be in the mid-thirties range, but with a long term commitment and perhaps advancement to supervisor salaries rise into the fifties. Probation officers have the highest salaries, but probation officers require a BA degree in social work, whereas high school skills with some corrections sponsored training is usually enough to get started.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that corrections work can be stressful and hazardous with job shifts day or night, weekday or weekend. Some prisons are well maintained, but they warn that some prisons are old, overcrowded, hot and noisy. Prisoners are not known for their amiability or good party manners.

A job is a requirement and America needs jobs, but an economy where manufacturing jobs decline month after month creates the possibility that attitudes toward prison terms are influenced by layoffs and the need for jobs. Reducing the prison population is doubly difficult because it means layoffs in prison employment, but former convicts need to have jobs as well.