Job: Correctional officer
The role: The role of a correctional officer is to maintain safety and security within a correctional facility. Correctional officers take hourly "safety walks" around the property and conduct regular inmate head counts to ensure everything is in order and everyone is accounted for.
Correctional officers supervise movements, such as escorting inmates to court or medical facilities. They also conduct routine safety checks for contraband, such as drugs and weapons, within inmate living quarters.
"Being a correctional officer, one of the most important things you've got to be able to do is you've got to be alert and prepared to react to anything," said Robert Decker, a correctional services officer at the Collins Bay Institution, a federal correctional facility in Kingston. "We've got to be able to handle a variety of difficult situations."
Most of these tasks are also followed by "lots of paper work," said Mr. Decker, such as officer statement observation reports and post-search reports.
Correctional officers are employed by provincial jails, remand centres and youth correctional facilities, as well as federal prisons, where adult offenders are sent to serve sentences longer than two years.
Salary: The Treasury Board of Canada standardizes the salaries of federal correctional services officers, which increase in predetermined increments every 12 months, though they are subject to annual review.
As of June 1, 2013, the starting salary of a level-one correctional services officer, or CX-1 – who typically work in facility oversight positions like watchtowers – is $55,970 a year. That salary increases every 12 months in specific increments until reaching a maximum of $70,663 during the fifth year of employment.
CX-2 level officers, who work within the correctional facility walls, begin at $59,398 a year, and receive a raise every 12 months until reaching a maximum of $74,985 on the fifth year. CX-3 officers, who supervise other officers, begin at $64,594 a year and top out at $81,548 after five years, while CX-4 correctional facility managers start at $70,244 annually and reach a maximum of $88,683 after five years, according to the Treasury Board of Canada. Advancing to the next level is not guaranteed after that five-year term, and reaching the next level requires a lengthy review process.
"It's scenario-based, and they grade you based on that," Mr. Decker said. "If you're successful, they'll do what's called 'Personal Suitability,' so they'll talk to your direct supervisors as well as your references, and they'll decide if you're suitable for that position."
The salaries of correctional services officers operating in provincial institutions, range between jurisdictions. For example, new hires in Ontario begin at $24.02 an hour and can progress to a maximum hourly salary of $31.79, according to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. In Alberta, correctional peace officers employed by the province earn between $25 and $37 per hour, according to the Alberta Government Learning Information Service.
Education: Federal correctional officers are required to have a diploma from a secondary institution, or a satisfactory score on the Public Service Commission Test.
"Once you're accepted, there's a training program, the Correctional Training Program, or CTP, which combines online learning as well as classroom [based-learning], and then we work in a gym to learn techniques we're responsible for, as well as weapons training at a firing range," Mr. Decker said.
The three-month training program is offered through Correctional Service Canada in Laval, Que., Saskatoon, Kingston, and at the CSC Training Academy in Regina.
Training and educational requirements differ between jurisdictions for correctional officers hired by provincial institutions. Those working in correctional facilities in Ontario, for example, must enroll in an eight-week correctional officer training and assessment program in Hamilton at a cost of $2,000, including room and board. B.C. Corrections, adult custody division, on the other hand, provides a paid-training program that begins full-time during for the first six weeks of employment, and continues part-time over the next 18 months on the job.
Job prospects: Within federal correctional service institutions, career opportunities are more difficult to come by, according to Mr. Decker.
"It's somewhat competitive right now," he said, "because of the closing of a few institutions, and the population for federal offenders is dropping somewhat, too. It depends on how many federal offenders are in custody at the time."
Some provinces, most notably Ontario, are currently facing shortages, and are in desperate need of more employees.
Challenges: Correctional services officers work in difficult and often dangerous settings, and are at risk of personal injury as well as burnout, fatigue and even post-traumatic stress.
"It's definitely a challenging job at times, and you've got to understand that the decision you make at any time could have consequences," Mr. Decker sad. "During these situations, we have to be professional. By that I mean if somebody is yelling at us or uttering obscenities or shouting insults, we've got to be professional, because our reaction and how we deal with things is key."
Why they do it: One of the main benefits of being a correctional services officer is the higher-than-average salary, benefits package and pension plan. According to Service Canada, the majority of employers grant full pension after less than 35 years of service.
"A lot of us have a great interest in the criminal justice system," Mr. Decker said. "People who want to get into policing, this is sort of similar to that."
Misconceptions: Mr. Decker says that television and movies often depict an inaccurate portrayal of what life is like working inside a prison.
"A lot of people think the worst of all offenders, especially in federal [correctional facilities], and I wouldn't say these are all bad people," he said. "Some of them have made mistakes and just want to move on with their lives."
Mr. Decker adds that, unlike in film and television, corrections officers operating within a facility's walls don't carry weapons. He also said that many people imagine a more violent working environment than exists in reality.
"For the most part it's a relatively quiet day," he said. "We're hoping, anyway."
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