Much like me, you may never have thought much about a career in a detention center or correctional facility. But, if you are interested in a line of work that will challenge you, and you are motivated, have good communication skills and have a desire to secure your future in a position with great benefits, then a career in corrections or detention may be right for you. In most cases, no prior experience is necessary, and many opportunities for advancement exist. Most important, if you enjoy helping people, it can be very rewarding.
Prior to becoming a detention officer, I really had not thought much about working in corrections. I first worked as a product specialist for a utility construction equipment manufacturer, which required me to travel around the country and left me with only a few days a month to spend at home with family. I decided to give up all the traveling and started working in textile manufacturing. I also attended junior college part time, studying industrial engineering technology. But it was not long before the textile industry started to falter, and the company began shutting down its factories to move its business to other countries. I realized I needed to make a change, and I longed for something challenging and exciting.
In September 2002, I applied for a detention officer position at the Greenville County Detention Center in Greenville, S.C., and began my career as a detention officer that October. I realized during the next few months that I made the right choice. I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing and worked hard. In 2004, I was promoted to the rank of corporal, and again in 2006 to the rank of sergeant. Then in 2008, I became the facility's special management supervisor and primary hearing officer, my current position.
Once you make the choice to enter the corrections field, the process is relatively simple. Job seekers complete an application, and the employer will do a background check. Testing may also be required prior to an interview. Depending on local employment laws, agencies are likely to require drug screening. Some may require a physical ability test and a psychological examination. Captains, sergeants or other staff members may conduct the interview process. You will likely be asked to talk about yourself and what motivated you to work in corrections or a detention environment. Employers are looking for people with good common sense and may pose questions related to a given scenario asking, "What would you do?"
If you successfully make it through all the requirements, you should get a formal offer of employment. This does not mean you are now an official detention officer, however. There will be training classes, on-the-job training and most likely you will be required to attend some type of formal training academy sponsored by your state. You'll need to successfully complete all of the training requirements.
So, what is it like working in a jail or prison? Detention officers and correctional officers are rarely mentioned in society unless they are in the news for some wrongdoing or for being injured or killed. It is a profession that is usually overlooked and unappreciated. No one on the outside really knows the stress level involved in a detention or corrections setting, and most people are not aware of the inner workings of a jail or prison system. Work schedules may involve rotating shifts, varying in length from eight to 12 hours. Shift assignments require a steady balance of experience, rank and gender. Security of the facility has to be provided 24 hours a day, so a Monday through Friday, eight-to-five position in this field is not likely during the start of your career. Most newcomers will even be required to work overtime and on weekends and holidays.
In addition …