Wanted: Correctional Officers

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

May 8, 2017

Immediate job openings available statewide for self-disciplined, perceptive, quick-thinking, team-oriented, flexible problem-solvers committed to working long hours in a stressful, potentially dangerous, dynamic, highly structured, self-contained environment.

Sound like a dichotomy of qualifications and circumstances? Oregon’s correctional officers are a proactive, creative workforce dedicated to the citizens of Oregon, including those in their care. Correctional officers guard inmates in penal or rehabilitative institutions in accordance with established regulations and procedures. Although their essential duty is to maintain security and inmate accountability to prevent disturbances, assaults, and escapes, their work involves much more. 

Numerous Urban and Rural Locations

Oregon is home to one federal penal institution located in rural Yamhill County, and state and county institutions are spread across the state. The Oregon Department of Corrections has 14 state prisons, housing more than 14,600 offenders. Five of these facilities are located in the Salem metro area. With the exception of two prisons in the Portland area, the rest are sited in more rural areas with facilities in Tillamook, North Bend, Madras, Lakeview, Umatilla, Pendleton, Baker City, and Ontario. Locally, county or city jails provide employment opportunities on a smaller scale closer to home.

Varied Job Duties and Skills in a Structured Setting

Although correctional facilities are highly regulated and essential job duties are the same from one site to the next, resident populations present a variety of challenges. Basic job requirements include enforcing rules and keeping order, supervising activities of inmates, inspecting facilities to ensure they meet standards, searching inmates for contraband items, settling disputes between inmates, aiding in rehabilitation and counseling of offenders, and reporting on inmate conduct.

Regardless of the nature of the facility, correctional officers enforce regulations primarily through their interpersonal communications skills. These skills include active listening, mediation and intervention techniques, identifying and relaying details concisely and consistently – whether orally or in written reports. Position descriptions and job announcements typically call for the ability to observe, analyze, and evaluate situations; proactively address potential issues before they occur; execute anger and conflict management strategies; and take charge of problems that arise. Given the nature of the job, these officers must also reach conclusions quickly and, when necessary, conduct legal searches, apply appropriate physical restraint, and perform CPR and other emergency medical procedures. The integrated nature of the corrections system is dependent on seamless, professional, often inter-organizational teamwork.

How to Get a Corrections Job

A currently available position posted online cites typical criminal justice employee characteristics. Their desired candidate would be able to “maintain order, enforce rules and regulations, and ensure inmates are orderly and obey rules.” It should come as no surprise that working in a correctional institution can be dangerous and stressful; correctional officers have one of the highest rates of injury and illness of all occupations.
Getting hired is only the first step in becoming a professional correctional officer. A hiring agency will require that a candidate be 21 years or older, a U.S. citizen, possess a high school diploma, GED certificate, or bachelor’s degree, pass a criminal background check (no felony convictions; fingerprints, drug tests, etc.), pass a medical examination, meet certain physical standards, and possess a valid driver’s license. Individuals with postsecondary education will have a competitive advantage in this process. Once employed, the hiring agency is required to send the new correctional officer through the state’s Basic Corrections Course for certification. This year-long program is provided by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) and involves classroom training, online courses, health and fitness classes, force skills training and a comprehensive Field Training Evaluation Program.

Wages, Benefits, and Conditions of Employment

Since Oregon’s correctional officers are state or local government employees, these positions are typically union-represented. Wages and benefits are structured according to established wage schedules and benefit packages. The average annual Oregon wage in 2016 was $56,117. The high end of the wage range is found in the Portland metro area ($63,531) while the low end is represented by correctional officers working in Southwestern Oregon ($47,729). Depending on job duties, correctional officers with special skills may be eligible for additional or differential pay.
Oregon’s correctional system never closes. Thus, correctional officers are expected to work on a shift basis to accommodate business needs for 24-hour, 7-day a week operations, including night shifts, weekends, holidays, and overtime, as required. As the system develops and facilities are remodeled or new buildings constructed, it may be possible to consolidate some operations. For instance, the use of modules or living pods has resulted in correctional officers being able to monitor inmate activities from a central location. Thus, facilities may be able to reduce the number of officers needed to manage the operations.

The employment growth outlook for correctional officers (+3.5%) is slower than the statewide average (+13.9%). Areas expected to have the most total annual job openings include Eastern Oregon (35), the Mid-Valley (30), and the Portland-Metro area (28). Most of these annual openings will come from replacement openings, as opposed to growth openings. This means that most correctional officer positions will be open because of job-leavers (for reasons such as retirement), as opposed to new positions that are created to meet a higher demand for the occupation.

Conclusion

For a self-disciplined, perceptive, quick-thinking, team-oriented, flexible individual who’s interested in serving the residents of Oregon in a stressful, potentially dangerous, dynamic, highly structured, self-contained environment, the correctional officer’s occupation offers an interesting and ever-changing employment opportunity. Although the occupation’s employment growth rate is projected to be modest, corrections facilities are expected to see their inmate population increase in the foreseeable future! According to the Oregon Corrections Population Forecast, April 2017, between 2017 and 2027, the number of prison inmates housed in Oregon’s prisons (not to mention local jails) is expected to grow from 14,652 to 15,234, a growth rate of about 4 percent. This coupled with the fact that 55 percent of those released from prison in the first six months of 2013 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release, makes current and future Oregon corrections professionals necessary to work with this population.


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