Jailer Job Description
Jailers, who may also be known as correctional officers or prison guards, work in a variety of correctional facilities ranging from county or city jails to federal correction centers. Jailers are responsible for maintaining day-to-day order while also conducting intake, processing, and record-keeping activities.
In this role, jailers keep prisoners, correctional officers, and the general public safe by overseeing and dispensing disciplinary and corrective actions aimed at rehabilitating prisoners who may be incarcerated for both violent and nonviolent crimes. Jailers constantly monitor prisoners to prevent violent or criminal activities.
Jailer Duties and Responsibilities
While a jailer’s duties can change depending on the size and jurisdiction of their facility, most share several essential responsibilities:
Jailers process inmates when they first arrive at a correctional facility, correctly identifying each prisoner, creating prison records with essential information, performing security procedures, and issuing them a uniform and other linens. In addition, jailers conduct activities related to prisoner release, ensuring that forms are filled out correctly and that prisoners receive items they surrendered during intake.
Maintain Jail Order
From day to day, most of a jailer’s activities are aimed at maintaining order within the jail or prison. This can include monitoring prisoners during socialization and meals, as well as monitoring prisoner traffic between areas of the facility. This aspect of the job can also include de-escalating fights and other potentially hazardous situations. Jailers also ensure that doors are locked at all times and that all prisoners are accounted for.
Take Disciplinary Action
If a prisoner violates the rules, jailers take corrective and disciplinary action. Their response can depend largely upon the severity of the incident and the prisoner’s general behavior, and may range from revoking privileges to taking physical action or isolating the offending prisoner. If multiple prisoners are involved with an incident, the jailer may need to initiate a lockdown.
Conduct Cell Inspections
At both allotted and random times, jailers conduct cell inspections to make sure that prisoners are following rules and regulations. The jailer may inspect the prisoner’s bed and other areas for contraband or ensure that prisoners who share a cell are not endangering one another. In some cases, jailers may need to coordinate facility-wide cell inspections, which tend to require the cooperation and collaboration of all personnel within the facility to maintain order while several jailers conduct physical inspections.
Monitor for Drugs and Contraband
Both during inspections and at all other times, jailers monitor the prison for indications of drug use or the presence of contraband such as weapons, hazardous devices, or cellular phones. This can include identifying prisoners for random drug tests and cell inspections if the jailer suspects them of possessing or distributing drugs, or body searches to locate hazardous or forbidden objects. If the jailer finds these objects, they confiscate and report them.
Escort Prisoners Throughout the Facility
Jailers also maintain order and safety by escorting prisoners between areas of the correctional facility, such as during meals, socialization periods, and work shifts. Depending on the danger that an inmate poses to personnel and other prisoners, the jailer determines the level of precaution to take and ensures that the prisoner’s movements are logged and that they are accounted for at all times.
Jailer Skills and Qualifications
Jailers maintain daily prisoner security from intake to release at a variety of correctional facilities. Workers in this role typically have a high school diploma, certification, and the following skills:
- Observational skills – this role requires excellent observation, since jailers need to monitor and assess situations and prisoners from moment to moment to prevent incidents from occurring
- Leadership – jailers should also be strong leaders, able to command the respect of prisoners within their facility and maintain order during chaotic moments
- Team collaboration – jailers work within teams of correctional officers, so they need excellent collaboration and coordination skills to prevent mistakes and ensure that personnel are in the right areas
- Physical strength and stamina – in this role, jailers may need to physically restrain prisoners and often work long hours on their feet, so physical strength and a high level of stamina are both important
- Communication skills – written and verbal communication are both vital in this role, whether interacting with prisoners and other facility personnel or preparing reports
Jailer Education and Training
Jailers typically have at least a high school diploma or GED. In addition, most jailers attend training academies or complete certification programs. Correctional agencies also tend to have minimum hiring ages for jailers, which can depend on the specific agency or jurisdiction. There are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role, especially since the specific tasks and challenges of the job can change from day to day.
Jailer Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), correctional officers and jailers earn a median annual wage of $43,540. The highest-paid 10 percent of workers in this role earn more than $74,940 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earn less than $29,540.
The BLS expects employment of jailers to decline 8 percent through 2026.
If you’d like to learn more about working as a jailer, we found a number of resources on the web for further reading and information:
Correctional Officer Test – this website presents practice questions for the correctional officer examination, including general knowledge, basic skills, and career-specific aptitude tests
Life as a Jailer: Through the Officers’ Eyes – authors Joe Defranco and Tom Duncan, two experienced correctional officers, explore the day-to-day realities of working at a jail or prison
American Correctional Association – jailers can join the ACA to learn the latest industry news, connect with other professionals, and access continuing education materials and publications
Prison Guard Talk: Pass the Correctional Officer’s Exam – this novel helps prepare readers for the correctional officer’s examination using the experiences of its central character, a correctional officer
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