Jails & Detention

Lieutenant in the control center. Probation Officer and Correctional Officer in county jail. Probation Officers meeting probationer in jail. Correctional Officer completing her logging. Probation Officer meeting probationer on work release. Staff in-service training. Inmate Case Manager. Correctional Officer supervising the laundry. Nurse caring for patient at a local jail. Facility and Community Corrections Administrators. Correctional Officer monitoring the women’s unit. Watch Commander office. (photo by Shoshana Frishberg-Izzo for the American Correctional Association) County Facility. Juvenile Detention Center. GED Program.
Jails and Detention Centers house:
  • Detainees awaiting trial and whose presence in the community poses a danger to themselves or others or those unable to post bail.
  • Offenders convicted at trial and serving a sentence (usually a year or less) or individuals who have violated the terms of community supervision.
  • Inmates waiting transfer to another jurisdiction or prison to serve a sentence or face other judicial action.
Juvenile Detention Centers house:
  • Adolescents placed in custody by the court who are alleged to be juvenile delinquents or adjudicated juvenile offenders, who are awaiting adjudication of their juvenile court cases.
  • Adolescents arrested by law enforcement who have committed a serious offense and are deemed to be high risk or a risk to themselves remaining in custody until they go before a judge.
  • Adolescents placed into a detention center on an apprehension and detention order for violating a condition of probation or post-release and awaiting a court appearance.

Jails and detention centers range in size from five beds to several thousand beds. There are approximately 3,200 jails in the United States, employing more than 250,000 people. Organizational structures of jails vary based on whether they are entities of local, regional, state or federal governments. In terms of jails and detention facilities serving Indian Country, the justice system for many of the 566 federally recognized Native American Tribes and Alaskan Natives is a hybrid of tribal, local, state and federal involvement.

  • The majority of jails are administered by county sheriffs.
  • In a few states, jails are administered by the state corrections agency.
  • About three percent of all jails are operated as regional facilities and serve more than one jurisdiction.
  • Jails and detention facilities may be privately operated.
  • Tribal and Indian Country governing structures administer 93 detention facilities. Twenty (20) of these facilities are operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Office of Justice Services, Correctional Services; 73 are operated by tribes with a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) , and 20 are independently operated by their tribal communities. Since 2004, the number of jails serving Native Americans has increased by 21 facilities. Tribal facilities often serve both adult and juvenile detainees.
  • There are no “prisons” in Indian Country. Convicted individuals for the most serious offenses are housed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities. Individuals tried and convicted on lesser charges than those enumerated by the Major Crimes Act may serve their time in local, tribal facilities. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, expanded tribes’ jurisdiction over criminal cases. Therefore, those convicted of offenses may serve their sentence in local facilities – often for up to three years.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates 12 metropolitan pre-trial detention centers that hold individuals awaiting trial or sentencing for federal crimes. Corrections officers within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have similar responsibilities to those working in local facilities.
  • The Territories of Guam and the United States Virgin Islands operate jails, as do the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.
Generally, jail/detention officers are responsible for:
  • Ensuring safety and security of inmates, staff and the public during incarceration.
  • Supervising inmates in their housing areas and during participation in programs and activities.
  • Intake and release responsibilities which may include substance abuse and mental health screening.
  • Determining inmate custody classification (e.g., security threat).
  • Determining work release eligibility.
  • Determining work crew eligibility.
  • Assisting inmates with employment opportunities and re-entry issues.
  • Transporting inmates to court, outside appointments or other facilities.
  • Securing the facility and surrounding areas.
  • Implementing facility policies and procedures.

In addition to jail/detention officers, these facilities also may employ physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, teachers, maintenance technicians, librarians, food service workers, administrative support staff, counselors and more.

Juvenile justice professionals work in a variety of settings in local, regional, and state governments. Just as in the adult corrections system, juveniles may be held in a secure setting awaiting trial, and may be incarcerated serving a sentence imposed by a court, or held in a detention facility awaiting a probation/parole violation hearing. There are professional opportunities working with juveniles in “treatment” settings, focusing on providing services needed to help the juvenile return to their community. Professionals may work in short-term holding facilities (“detention facilities”), often for youth awaiting judicial action, or work in facilities for youth who have been adjudicated of a crime and have been sentenced to serve a sentence in a state juvenile correctional facility, residential facility, group home or foster care. The most recent data reports that as of February 2010 there were 79,165 youth held in 2,259 public and private facilities.2

Juveniles may be automatically prosecuted in adult court if the offense and age meet specific state statutory requirements. Also, many states have provisions for transfer of jurisdiction for youth to adult court. Laws vary considerably from state to state. Information regarding each state’s statute for automatic adult prosecution and transfer of jurisdiction to adult court can be found in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) Statistical Briefing Book.

The juvenile justice system often has purview over “offenses” which if committed by an adult would not be a crime. These offenses are referred to as status offenses. A status offense may be defined as conduct which would not be a crime under the law of the jurisdiction in which the offense was committed if committed by an adult.

Status offenses include but are not limited to:
  • Runaway - leaving the home and custody of parents or guardians without permission and failing to return within a reasonable length of time.
  • Truancy - failure to abide by a compulsory school attendance statute.
  • Curfew - it typically prohibits or limits the youths under a certain age right to be out in public at certain times.
  • Liquor law violations - possession, purchase or consumption of liquor by minors.
  • Valid court order (VOA) - directs a youth’s behavior which is an order issued by a juvenile court judge.

Information regarding status offenses in each state can be found in the OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. However, most states refer to status offenders as "children in need of protection and services (CHIPS), or dependent or neglected children". Human service agencies assume responsibility for these youth.


2http://www.ncjj.org/Publication/Juveniles-in-Residential-Placement-2010.... accessed on 6/24/13.

Employment opportunities are vast and varied within jails and detention centers serving adults and juveniles. While not an exhaustive list, positions may include:

  • Line Correctional Officer/Deputy Sheriff/Detention Staff
  • First Line Supervisor/Sergeant
  • Corrections Lieutenant and Captain
  • Investigator
  • Executive/Senior Management
  • Counselor
  • Social Worker
  • Teacher (e.g., general education, vocational education, special education)
  • Medical/Mental Health/Dental Service Provider
  • Facility Maintenance Worker and Supervisor
  • Administrative and Clerical
  • Food Service Professional
  • Information Technology (IT) Administration
  • Employee Trainer
  • Crime Victim Services
  • Inmate Classification and Records Management
  • Policy Research, Development and Implementation
  • Research/Analysis
  • Human Resources
  • Re-entry Specialists
  • Intake Worker
Types of Positions in Indian Country

The same types of positions are available in Indian Country jails as in local jails. For those interested in health care services, the Indian Health Service (http://www.ihs.gov/) provides services to Tribal facilities, and job openings.

Further explore the range of positions in Corrections. Search our Job Board for positions within this discipline.

Outlined below are useful skills for jail/detention officers, corrections deputy sheriffs, and juvenile detention staff:

  • Strong oral and written communication skills, including active listening, persuasion and negotiation
  • Problem-solving skills, using logic and reasoning to apply facility policies and identify strengths/weaknesses associated with alternative solutions
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Ability to understand and follow verbal and written instructions in a timely manner
  • Ability to multitask
  • Ability to work with a diverse workforce and inmate populations

skillsMost entry-level positions for detention officers do not require specific job knowledge, but many organizations prefer applicants be over the age of 21 and have:

  • Basic knowledge of the criminal justice system
  • Understanding of the dynamics of human behavior and the ability to observe changes
  • Proficiency in technology
  • Ability to provide constructive feedback to correct behavior
  • No serious criminal background

Those who seek a career in the juvenile justice system should have an understanding of adolescent behavior and possess a strong desire to work with youth.

Applicants may also be required to pass a criminal history record check, take written, oral, polygraph, physical, psychological and medical examinations. Check job postings for specific information, as testing procedures vary by organization.

Below are general qualifications for jail detention officers, corrections deputies and juvenile justice employees; however, keep in mind that each jurisdiction will have its specific qualifications. The minimum qualifications for those seeking positions with the Federal Bureau of Prisons metropolitan pre-trial detention centers are similar to these requirements; however, additional qualifications may apply for federal positions. A list of qualifications related to jobs within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Minimum Qualifications
  • Eligible to work in the US (some agencies require US citizenship, others do not)
  • At least 18 years of age; for some agencies, the age may be 21
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Some work experience
  • Good physical and mental fitness
  • No felony convictions; some agencies may disqualify applicants for offenses involving domestic violence and offenses involving children, or misdemeanor convictions
  • Drug free
Desirable Qualifications
  • Many require 19 or 21 years of age
  • College education (e.g., associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in corrections, sociology, psychology, social work or human services, is usually preferred, but a degree in any field is acceptable)
  • Relevant specialty skills such as fluency in a second language (e.g., Spanish, Russian, etc.), technology, etc.
  • Some years of relevant job experience and/or volunteer service
  • Clean employment record (i.e., not previously released from employment or resigned under unsatisfactory circumstances)
  • No criminal history

qualificationsDue to the physical nature and potential safety risks of the job, jail/detention officers and corrections deputies are typically in good physical and mental condition, possess standard (or correctable) vision, and have the ability to function effectively within a stressful environment. These factors may be assessed through entry-level tests that help determine an individual’s interpersonal skills, judgment/logical reasoning ability, physical agility and more. Candidates may also be asked to undergo additional assessments, including a pre-employment physical examination and a psychological examination. A drug screening prior to employment is required by most agencies.

These qualifications are provided only for general guidance; refer to job postings to determine specific requirements. Job announcements, and often online applications, background check forms and other required documentation are typically posted on the websites of jails/detention centers, sheriff departments and offices, county and city human resources offices, state departments of corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Qualifications in Indian County

The qualifications for many positions in Indian Country jails are essentially the same as in county jails. Many tribal communities and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) use Indian preference in hiring. “Indian preference is a unique legal right that tribal members have that entitles them to first consideration at all employment, training, contracting, subcontracting, and business opportunities that exist on and in some cases near reservations.” Indian preference may apply to job openings, but this should not keep you for applying for a position that interests you. For positions working for Indian Affairs, log onto www.usajobs.gov.

Tribal facilities hire through their tribal human resources agencies/departments. See a list of federally recognized tribes. From this list you can connect to the website of the tribe in which you are interested, and learn more about their hiring needs and practices. Keep in mind that not all tribes have chosen to operate a facility.

Potential Disqualifiers for Certified/Sworn Jail/Detention Officers and Corrections Deputies

Certain behaviors (past and present) may disqualify applicants from jobs within jails and detention centers. However, disqualifiers vary among agencies. For example, one agency may exclude a candidate for any felony arrest, while another may accept a felony arrest, as long as it is not for domestic violence, driving under the influence (DUI), violent behavior or a crime of moral turpitude.

Generally, the following MAY disqualify a candidate for a certified/sworn position:

  • Adult felony or certain misdemeanor arrests and/or conviction(s)
  • Arrest and/or conviction as an adult for domestic violence
  • Current or history of drug use (with cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine or other illegal substances)
  • Driving record featuring multiple license suspensions

Disqualifiers are typically revealed through a standard background check that includes criminal history and in some cases a polygraph examination. Background investigations may include one or more of the following:

  • Finger printing
  • Urinalysis
  • A check of military records, when applicable
  • A report from a credit agency regarding the applicant’s current and past credit history
  • Examination of school records or interviews with school officials
  • Interviews with:
    • Personal references furnished by the applicant
    • Neighbors of the applicant within the last five years
    • Current and past employers within the last five years
    • Co-workers within the past five years

Additionally, read some Tips for Interviewing > >

Inquire about training opportunities when considering jobs, as the type of training provided to new and current jail and detention professionals varies by agency. Typically, training falls into one of three categories: pre-service, in-service, and specialized.

Pre-Service Training

Many states require pre-service training for jail/detention officers, but there are no national standards or requirements. Most programs are designed to provide basic knowledge and skills and may include:

  • Overview of criminal justice system
  • Agency policies and procedures, mission and vision
  • State and/or local laws
  • Report writing
  • First aid and CPR
  • Interpersonal communications and human behavior
  • Defensive tactics and use of force
  • Legal issues
  • Inmate management and supervision techniques
  • Inmate rules of conduct
training

Most pre-service training is conducted in an academy setting. Jail/detention officers, corrections deputies, and juvenile detention staff usually spend a period of time as probationary employees before being designated as permanent, full-time employees. During the probationary period, officers receive on-the-job training from their supervisors and experienced peers.

In some states jail/detention officers, corrections deputies, and juvenile detention staff may be granted sworn officer status and permitted or required to carry a firearm. In these circumstances, officers participate in appropriate firearms and tactical training. Such training and firearms certification is typically completed within the first year of employment.

In-Service Training

Most agencies require employees to engage in ongoing education and provide professional development opportunities, updates to agency policies and procedures and refresher courses. This training may be provided within the agency or through national or regional conferences, regional or state training academies, community colleges, or other institutions of higher education.

Specialized Training

Officers assigned to work in specialized roles such as emergency response teams or with K-9s often receive additional training.

Obtain additional information regarding training, by visiting the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Training in Indian County

For tribal detention facilities operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, training takes places at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico – the United States Indian Police Academy (IPA). Training for tribal facilities is carried out based on the requirements of the tribe, and/or the state.

  1. What is a jail?
  2. What is a juvenile detention center?
  3. How many juvenile detention centers are there in the United States?
  4. Are youth held in detention allowed visitors?
  5. Do juveniles held in detention go to school?
  6. Are juveniles ever committed to adult prisons?
  7. What are the 4 core requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act?
  8. What are the educational requirements for detention/correctional officer/jailer?
  9. Are there additional qualifications for detention/correctional officers and jailers?
  10. Can I be disqualified from a detention/correctional officer or jailer position for any reason?
  11. What is the general annual income for detention/correctional officers and jailers?
  12. What kind of training do detention/correctional officers and jailers have to undergo?
  13. What is the nature of the work environment for detention/correctional officers and jailers?
  14. Do detention/correctional officers and jailers carry firearms?
  15. Are there opportunities for promotion? And how secure is a career as a detention/correctional officer or jailer?

1. What is a jail?

Detention/correction centers, commonly known as jails, are incarceration facilities used primarily to house adult inmates who usually have been sentenced to serve less than one year in jail or are held pending a trial, awaiting sentencing or awaiting transfer to other facilities. Jails provide for necessary daily health and welfare needs, and may offer other services, such as education, job training, substance abuse treatment, etc. Jails exist in all sizes and with varied operational structures within the local, state and federal systems.

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2. What is a juvenile detention center?

A juvenile detention center temporarily incarcerates juveniles after they have been accused of committing a delinquent act, and the court orders the juvenile held in detention until their next scheduled court appearance (detention hearing), or are alleged to be in violation of their probation conditions. Juveniles are supervised by staff and are not allowed to leave without an escort. These centers are mandated to provide case management, treatment, recreational activities, education, and health services. Adolescents can be held for longer durations if they are being considered for transfer to the adult court.

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3. How many juvenile detention centers are there in the United States?

There are approximately 718 juvenile detention centers in the United States . However, the juvenile justice system provides a continuum of juvenile justice facilities ranging from group homes, shelters, residential treatment centers, training schools, ranch/wilderness camps, and reception/diagnostics centers. Additional juvenile justice information can be found in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) Statistical Briefing Book found at http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/faqs.asp

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4. Are youth held in detention allowed visitors?

Due to confidentiality laws visitors are restricted and monitored closely. In many situations only parents and/or legal guardians are allowed to visit. This having been said, a juvenile’s family can be an important source of tangible and emotional support. Additional information is found in The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance and is available at http://csgjusticecenter.org/nrrc/publications/the-impact-of-family-visit...

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5. Do juveniles held in detention go to school?

Yes, by law, adolescents must attend school each weekday while held in detention. Programs must be responsive to the developmental, physical, social, psychological/emotional, educational requirements including services for students with special needs, and family needs that are unique to adolescents. The school setting is held within a detention center.

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6. Are juveniles ever committed to adult prisons?

Most states amended their criminal codes to allow youth charged with certain serious crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, rape and in some states certain property offenses to be sentenced as adults and to have jurisdiction waived (terminology varies from state to state – some call the process a certification, bind-over, remand or transfer) to adult court. Some of the factors considered for waiver include seriousness of the offense, the juvenile’s prior delinquent history, the eligibility of the minor under state statute for waiver to adult court, past rehabilitation efforts that have proven unsuccessful in the juvenile system, and services under the juvenile system that cannot be provided for the length of time needed. Additional information is available on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency (OJJDP) website ( http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/population/index.html ).

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7. What are the 4 core requirements of the 2002 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act?

In 1974 Congress enacted the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act (Pub. L. No. 93–415, 42 U.S.C. § 5601 et seq.). This historical legislation established OJJDP [the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention] and provided the underpinnings to improve local and state juvenile justice systems and juvenile delinquency prevention efforts. On November 2, 2002, Congress reauthorized the JJDP Act. In order to receive funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (OJJDP’s) formula Grants Program states must demonstrate a commitment to achieve and maintain compliance with the 4 tenants of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act.

Deinstitutionalization of status offenders: Status offenders may not be held in secure detention or confinement. There are limited exceptions to this requirement which include a provision that allows accused status offenders to be securely held in juvenile facilities for up to 24 hours before and after an initial court appearance, and it allows juveniles who commit a violation of a valid court order (VCO) to be detained in a juvenile detention facility. Sight and sound separations: sight and sound contact with adult inmates is prohibited when youth are detained or confined for any period of time. Removal of juveniles from adult jails and lockups: youth may not be detained in adult jails or lock-ups. Exceptions include juveniles who are being held for non-status offenses. They may be held for a period of 6 hours for processing or release and prior to or after court appearances. In rural areas juveniles may be held for up to 48 hours excluding weekends and holidays, or until weather conditions permit, prior to an initial court hearing. Reduction of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile justice system: states are required to address the disproportionate contact of minority youth at critical contact points including arrest, detention, and incarceration in the juvenile justice system. The Disproportionate Minority Contact website is found at http://www.ojjdp.gov/dmc/. An overview of the JJDPA Core Requirements is provided in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and information regarding states’ compliance with the core elements of the JJDP Act is found at Monitoring Facilities under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002.

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8. What are the educational requirements for detention/correctional officer/jailer?

Most agencies require their officers/jailers to have a high school diploma or GED. Some agencies require additional coursework in corrections or a related field. Carefully review the minimum qualifications section of vacancy announcements to ensure that you meet specific requirements.

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9. Are there additional qualifications for detention/correctional officers and jailers?

Most agencies prefer applicants have or develop knowledge, skills and abilities in the following areas.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, projects that employment of correctional officers is expected to grow 9 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

  • Basic knowledge of the criminal justice system and relevant laws
  • General knowledge of the principles of evidence-based practices as related to jails/detention centers
  • General understanding of the dynamics of human behavior, such as the behavioral characteristics of inmates with anti-social behavior
  • Knowledge of methods and techniques used when working with adult or juvenile inmates
  • Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing with a variety of audiences (eg: inmates, the judiciary, treatment providers, law enforcement, community partners and others)
  • Ability to plan, organize, and manage time with efficiency and effectiveness, including the ability to handle multiple tasks and crisis situations
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Proficiency in the use of and/or willingness to learn about the technology and databases required to perform the required job duties
  • Sensitivity to group and individual differences; views diversity as an opportunity, challenges bias and intolerance

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10. Can I be disqualified from a detention/correctional officer or jailer position for any reason?

Rules across agencies regarding factors that may disqualify candidates for positions within a jail or detention center vary by agency. For example, one agency may disqualify a candidate for any felony, while another will accept felonies, as long as they are not domestic violence, DUI or a crime of moral turpitude. While you should check with individual agencies regarding their policies, the following are common dis-qualifiers:

  • Adult felony conviction
  • Adult domestic violence conviction (may have time limit, such as within the last three years)
  • Drug use other than marijuana (may have time limit, such as within the last 3 or 7 years)
  • Tattoos that are visible when wearing a uniform

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11. What is the general annual income for detention/correctional officers and jailers?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, median annual wages of correctional officers and jailers in May 2012 were $39,040. The salaries for correctional officers varies throughout the nation with the highest 10 percent earning more than $66,610 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $18,700. Higher wages tend to be found in urban areas.

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12. What kind of training do detention/correctional officers and jailers have to undergo?

Training requirements vary by agency. Some agencies have highly structured training curricula and internal training departments, while others have less structured programs with minimal classroom instruction. Almost all agencies have minimum training requirements during the first year with most ranging between 40 hours to 16 weeks.

For illustration purposes, following is an example of the training topics required by one state. In that particular state, new detention officers receive a total of 120 hours of orientation and basic officer classroom training during his/her first year of employment.

  • Security procedures
  • Supervision of inmates
  • Suicide precautions and signs of suicide risk
  • Use of force regulations and tactics
  • Report writing
  • Inmate rules and regulations
  • Rights and responsibilities of inmates
  • Fire and emergency procedures
  • Key control
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Social and cultural lifestyles of the inmate population
  • Communication skills
  • First aid

Agencies that are authorized to use firearms provide training via a basic weaponry course and require annual or more frequent accreditation testing.

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13. What is the nature of the work environment for detention/correctional officers and jailers?

The jail population changes constantly as some prisoners are released, some are convicted and transferred to prison, and new offenders are arrested and enter the system. Detention officers/jailers monitor inmate activities and work assignments to maintain security and inmate accountability and prevent disturbances, assaults and escapes. Detention/officers and jailers have no law enforcement responsibilities outside of the institution where they work. In jails utilizing supervision, an unarmed detention officer, equipped with a communications device, may work alone among 50 to 100 inmates. Officers enforce regulations primarily through interpersonal communication skills and the use of progressive sanctions, such as the removal of privileges. Officers also escort prisoners between their institution and courtrooms, medical facilities and other destinations.

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14. Do detention/correctional officers and jailers carry firearms?

Some may carry weapons. Those who are authorized to use firearms will be trained in weaponry and subject to annual or more frequent accreditation testing.

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15. Are there opportunities for promotion? And how secure is a career as a detention/correctional officer or jailer

Qualified officers with appropriate knowledge, skills, ability and training may advance to leadership or administrative positions such as sergeant, lieutenant, captain, etc. In some jurisdictions, jailers/detention officers may compete for a specialty assignment, such as working with special response teams. Promotion opportunities may be enhanced by earning a college degree.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, projects that employment of correctional officers is expected to grow five percent between 2012 and 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Private sector job opportunities are expected to be good as public agencies contract with private companies to provide and staff corrections facilities.

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