Can You be a Prison Officer With a Criminal Record?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: July 13, 2022

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a prison (corrections) officer? Are the requirements different compared to a police officer on patrol? Do they vary from state to state? 

Well, considering there are different types of prisons—federal, state, private—there are some differences when it comes to the specific requirements. But overall, the criteria is extremely similar no matter which correctional facility you apply to.

There are definitely differences between a corrections officer and a police officer. Those who work in prisons aren’t sworn employees, and they don’t enforce laws. Instead, they are usually civilian employees who enforce facility regulations. 

Prison officers aren’t considered law enforcement or first responders, but their job is still very dangerous and requires a specific set of skills.

What are the basic requirements to be a corrections officer? Can you be a prison officer with a criminal record? Keep reading today’s blog post to find out.

This blog post will cover the following topics:

  • Basic requirements to be a prison officer
  • Felonies are usually a deal breaker, but misdemeanors are often okay

Basic requirements to be a prison officer

To be a prison officer at any state or federal facility—public or private—you have to be at least 18 years old (19 in some states) and be a United States citizen. All applicants are also required to have a high school diploma or GED.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have even more educational requirements for their officers. They require that applicants have a college degree or one to three years of experience in similar work—such as supervising, counseling or negotiating with individuals—for federal correctional officer jobs

The majority of states, as well as the BOP, require that you have a valid driver’s license, and they also want to make sure you can physically do the job. 

“At some point during the recruitment process you will be required to have a physical exam and pass a physical fitness test. The exam is fairly standard from state to state,” explains

“The requirement is basically are you physically capable to do the job, or do you have a pre-existing condition that will prove to be a problem. The fitness exam varies vastly from state to state with some states merely accepting the results of the doctor’s physical exam.”

Some states have a detailed pre-application screening process that will require applicants to undergo testing before they get to the formal application for a correctional officer position.  

Some of these tests involve video simulations or real life correctional situations.  Others require literacy and English fluency testing. Some require applicants to be eligible to carry a concealed weapon under state law.

If you are considering a career in corrections, the best thing to do is go to your county or state’s department of corrections website and review the requirements for that specific location. 

At Prison Insight, we also have a careers section on every entry in our facility directory where you can find links to applications and more information for each jail and prison.

Felonies are usually a deal breaker, but misdemeanors are often okay

Almost every state does a background check on prison officer applicants that will include a look at criminal history and credit report. All applicants are required to have a “clean” criminal record, but the specifics of what that means do vary.

Ninety-nine times out of 100, a felony conviction will end an applicant’s chances of being hired as a prison officer. The only exceptions to this seem to be when an applicant has received a pardon or had their record expunged. 

The nuance comes with misdemeanors. Some states will accept applicants who have had minor offenses, as long as the sentence and/or probationary period has been finalized and all fines and restitutions have been paid. Others won’t allow applicants with misdemeanor charges at all. 

The misdemeanor offenses that can cause problems for a prison officer applicant are those that are drug-related, and those related to domestic violence.

Because a correctional officer’s job is to oversee an inmate population in a jail or prison, they need to be role models who follow the law. They also need to be people who won’t be tempted by financial or other types of bribes. 

Prison employees are one of the most common ways that drugs and other contraband are brought into correctional facilities, so the people who work there must be trustworthy and of good moral character.

Do you have any experience working as a correctional officer? What was the application process like? Do you have a clean criminal record? Let us know in the comments below.


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What will disqualify you from becoming a correctional officer?

BOP Correctional Officer
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