Prison officer

Prison officer
Prison officer
Finnish female prison guard.jpg
Finnish Prison Officer
Names Correctional officer, corrections officer, detention officer
Activity sectors Law enforcement
Competencies See Working environment
Education required See Training

A prison officer (Denmark[1], Finland[2], Sweden[3], UK[4] and Ireland[5]), also referred to as a corrections officer (New Zealand[6], US and Yukon Territory[7]), correctional officer (Australia[8], Canada[9][10][11], Jamaica[12], and US[13]), or detention officer (US), is a person charged with the responsibility of the supervision, safety and security of prisoners in a prison, jail, or similar form of secure custody. Historically, terms such as jailer (also spelled jailor or gaoler), jail guard, prison guard, prison warder, and turnkey[14] have also been used.

Prison officers are responsible for the care, custody, and control of individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial while on remand or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a prison or jail. They are also responsible for the safety and security of the facility itself. Most officers are employed by the government of the jurisdiction in which they operate, though some are employed by private companies.



The duties of a prison officer can vary, but they often include:

  • Maintaining order and discipline within the institution
  • Enforcing facility rules, regulations, and applicable legislation
  • Searching inmates and environs for contraband
  • Transporting inmates to courts, other prison facilities, or into the community (e.g. medical appointments, escorted day-pass, etc.)
  • Providing first-response in the event of assault, riot, fire, medical emergency, etc.
  • Tactical response for ongoing emergencies, such as riot, hostage taking, or other major crisis

Working environment

A prison officer's job is often considered dangerous with inmate confrontations resulting in many injuries a year. A prison officer's working environment can vary considerably with some prison facilities being modern, well lit, air-conditioned, and ventilated while others such as San Quentin State Prison are old, overcrowded, and noisy. Prison officers often work on a rotating shift basis including weekends and holidays. Since many prison facilities have officer shortages, prison officers are often required to work additional shifts. Having to put in extra hours can result in fatigue, low morale, and family-related problems. Prison officers may also get burned out because their work is unpredictable, identity-threatening, tragic, incongruous, and stigmatized.[15]

Because a prison, or similar detention facility is a controlled environment inmates will often attempt to disrupt it. Various remedies for such disruptions, including physical and less-than-lethal force, isolation and less-lethal weaponry are often adopted depending on the type of correctional facility and its jurisdiction. Due to multiple disruptions and challenging work environments prison officers often face high levels of stress, burnout, health problems, high turnover rates, low life expectancy, and decreased quality of life. The National Institute of Corrections in the US reports that after 20 years of service the life expectancy of a correctional officer is 58.[16]

The duties a prison officer carries out will often depend on the type of facility in which they work. For instance, a prison officer at a minimum security facility may be responsible for casually supervising inmates as they work or participate in treatment programs while at a maximum security institution a prison officer would have duties involving the regular use of restraints, weapon searches, and tactical response.

Prison officers are also expected to control their emotions, remain impersonal, and engage in activities that are often conflicting. For example, they are expected to respect and nurture, yet suspect and discipline inmates and have an us–them mentality.[17]


Prison officer training will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as well as facility to facility depending on the legislated power given, the nature of the facilities, or even the socioeconomics of the region. Training may be provided by external agencies or at the facility with a peer-group or supervisor instructor.

In North America, standard training usually includes:

Many jurisdictions have also, in recent years, expanded basic training to include:

See also



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