What does a Prison Officer do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A prison officer, also known as a corrections officer or warden, is a person entrusted with the care and safety of prisoners and the safe management of a prison facility. Prison officers may have a variety of different jobs within a particular system, but tend to work together to form a cohesive authority unit. Becoming a prison officer takes considerable training in many regions and may have specific prerequisites.

Alcatraz, a prison on an island in San Francisco Bay that has been closed since 1963.
Alcatraz, a prison on an island in San Francisco Bay that has been closed since 1963.

Often put in supervisory roles, a prison officer needs to have excellent communication and people skills. To maintain order, wardens must attempt to keep prisoners calm and peaceful, but at the same time maintain the authority of the system. All aspects of a prisoner's life may be in the hands of prison officers, from rehabilitation efforts to health care.

Prison officers often have backgrounds in law enforcement or the military.
Prison officers often have backgrounds in law enforcement or the military.

In regions where rehabilitation is an important component of prison goals, officers can serve as motivators and counselors to prisoners. Some seek out the job in order to try and help people gain the tools and the awareness to live a lawful life in the future. Often asked to play the part of a therapist or social worker, a prison officer has to keep a close eye on prisoners for signs of suicidal depression, increasing hostility, or other problematic issues.

Security and keeping order are naturally very large parts of a prison officer's job. Trained in weapons and self-defense, prison wardens may still occasionally find their own lives in danger if a prisoner tries to escape, start a riot, or simply enact violence. Wardens are responsible for the transportation of prisoners to and from court dates, work duty, and furloughs. They also must conduct frequent searches in order to keep contraband items, such as weapons or drugs, away from prisoners.

In some cases, prison officers serve as liaisons for social workers, lawyers, and prisoners' families. They are often in the best position to assess prisoner behavior, as they work with the prisoners on a consistent, daily basis. Many are trained in providing efficient court reports, which may be used to report rule infractions and violent incidents, but may also be used to assess a prisoner's status regarding a possible parole or early release.

Some people stereotype prison officers as sadistic thugs who enjoy holding power over others. While some experts suggest that some wardens may indeed fit that description, many are far more interested in helping prisoners than asserting power. At its heart, the job of a prison officer requires a person to put him or herself in danger and work on a daily basis with people that most would fear being around. When performing duties with compassion, efficiency, and honest, a prison officer may be the very model of a humanitarian, albeit one that must sometimes resort to disciplinary tactics.

Prison officers are entrusted with the safety and care of prisoners.
Prison officers are entrusted with the safety and care of prisoners.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


One of the security officers where I work is a retired prison officer. He told me he always felt a lot of stress at that job. From the time he pulled onto the detention center grounds until the time he clocked out, he said he was holding his breath.

During his last five years on the job, he was one of the guys in the towers with the rifles. He said that position was a little less stressful, but he was still holding his breath.


I have a buddy who works as a correctional officer. He has worked at minimum, medium and maximum security detention centers. He says the difference between minimum and maximum is like night and day.

In the minimum security prison he says he tries to be a mentor to the young inmates. With the older inmates, he says he just listens because some of them are basically looking for a friendly ear.

In the maximum security facilities, my friend says he feels sorry for what some of the inmates have to go through, but for the most part they are beyond mentoring and he just wants to make sure he and his coworkers stay safe.


This article makes a good point about the many roles an officer with the department of corrections is called upon to assume. From movies, we are left with the impression of prison guards as hostile, uncaring and, to borrow a term from the article, "sadistic thugs."

Through interviews with prison guards, I have learned that the majority of guards have no ill will toward inmates as a whole. Of course, there are some inmates they like less, or dislike more than others. However, at the end of the day, all a prison guard wants is to earn his paycheck and go home safely.

Post your comments
Forgot password?