Can You be a Prison Officer With Tattoos?

By Natalie

Updated: January 26, 2022

I’ve talked a lot in my blog posts about the life of inmates behind bars, but I rarely write about prison workers–the officers, administrators, and volunteers who supervise the facility and enforce the rules. 

I don’t have any experience working in a prison as a non-inmate, but I did watch these people very closely for four years. I even had a cordial relationship with many of the guards and administrators that I worked with as an inmate. 

Between what I witnessed during my prison experience and my research, I’m confident I can answer today’s question correctly–Can you be a prison officer with tattoos?

In this blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • Grooming guidelines for a career in corrections
  • The tattoo and piercing rules vary by institution

Grooming guidelines for a career in corrections

The short and simple answer to today’s question is yes, you can be a prison officer if you have tattoos. The appearance and grooming guidelines for a career in corrections are pretty universal, but there are nuances based on the specific institution.

For male officers, there are rules for hair and facial hair. Normally, they are supposed to keep their hair neat and clean, and the hair must be kept short and trimmed up regularly. 

“While there is no Correctional Officer Haircut that you must have, your neat and orderly appearance will speak volumes on your competency level to supervisors and the rest of your coworkers. Basically no extreme hairstyles, outrageous colors, or hair below the collar,” so says the Online Correctional Officer Training and Job Center.

Mustaches are allowed if they are kept neat and trimmed, but beards are usually a no-no. As are long sideburns. Those have to stop at the bottom of the ear.

For the ladies, they must also keep their hair neat and clean. If their hair is long, female officers must wear their hair tied back so there isn’t anything for prisoners to grab hold of. Female officers also have rules about unnatural eyebrows and eyelashes, which aren’t permitted.

Officers also have to follow fingernail rules. They must be clean and trimmed at all times, and never long enough to go over the top of the finger. Nail polish must be neutral (or it might not be allowed at all, depending on the facility). Writing and designs on the fingernails is prohibited.

Correctional officers can’t wear jewelry on the job, like watches and wedding bands. If you’re pierced on your ears, nose, lip, eyebrow, or anywhere else on the face, you’ll have to take that jewelry out before starting your shift. 

There are also grooming standards concerning makeup, perfume, and cologne. Makeup must appear natural and be conservatively applied. The use of cologne or perfume is usually not allowed in prisons. But if it is, it must be used in moderation.

Like I said earlier, the rules do vary based on the facility. As a rule, the grooming standards for hair, nails, jewelry, makeup, and perfume are pretty universal. 

The tattoo and piercing rules vary by institution

The tattoo and piercing rules do vary by institution. There are differences between a state facility and a federal facility. There’s also differences between a privately-owned prison and a government owned institution, as well as differences between security levels.

In general, the rules for correctional officers and tattoos are as follows:

“Your tattoos shouldn’t be offensive, objectionable, or gang-related in any way. Additionally, if you have head, face, or neck tattoos, then you may also be against your department’s guidelines.”

In my experience, many of the officers at camp had tattoos on their arms, but I never saw any face or neck tattoos. I know that some officers wore long sleeves to cover their ink, but I don’t know if that was mandatory because of the specific tattoo, or if the officers chose to cover them up for another reason. 

I know a couple of the officers I talked to were former military, so a lot of the ink they had was related to serving their country. Some are former cops, while others are trying to work their way up in the world of law enforcement and/or corrections. So, the ink they had was often related to the badge or a police force. 

What do you think of correctional officer grooming standards? Let us know in the comments below.


Guidelines for Proper Grooming & Appearance in Corrections

Tattoos and CO's

10 awesome correctional officer tattoos

10 Reasons Why You're Not Getting Hired as a Correctional Officer

Can you have visible tattoos and piercings working as a correctional officer here [CoreCivic]?
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