Tips & Facts

How to Recruit Correctional Officers Who Don’t Quit

A company is only as good as the employees that they hire, so finding the right person for the job is a vital, sometimes tedious, task. For many jail administrators, this task of recruiting and hiring correctional officers can often be all the more onerous. If you want to know how to recruit the best of the best, you’ve got to understand the position.

Being the thankless job that it is, the role of being a correctional officer comes with some big shoes to fill. Finding candidates whose skill sets and priorities align with the job description is a good place to start, but there are other crucial elements to keep on your radar when you’re learning how to recruit correctional officers who don’t quit.

Hiring Good Candidates

Knowing and understanding how to hire the right person for the job takes time and practical applicability. In order to do this effectively, one must first know how to recruit the right kind of candidates. Much of this involves having a firm understanding of the job description and advertising through the appropriate avenues. These avenues may include LinkedIn, job listing sites like Indeed, and even local newspapers and flyers.

After appropriate avenues have been selected, it’s important to have all of the candidate qualifications and prerequisites clearly established. According to’s post, standard requirements for correctional officers include, “Be at least 18 years of age, possess a high school diploma or GED, have no previous felony convictions, be a United States citizen, and possess a valid driver’s license.”

When you know how to recruit good people, everything else starts to fall into place. Although cognitive and educational requirements are important, it is equally salient to have a clear description of the best personality fit for the position. When it comes to hiring correctional officers, this personality might want to stress the desire for a person who portrays high critical thinking skills, self-discipline, good judgment, physical strength, and negotiation and interpersonal skills.

According to Chron’s article, Qualities of a Successful Correctional Officer, the top four characteristics that are sought after when recruiting correctional officers include, “observation skills, physical fitness, impartiality and communication skills.” It is vital that these personality characteristics are taken into account in the hiring process in order to ensure that the individual undertaking the job will be successful.

Why Correctional Officers Quit

Part of knowing how to recruit great officers is an awareness of what makes your position unappetizing. Ever walk down the halls at work perpetually anticipating the next time you’ll get physically attacked by a mentally ill person? Odds are, you probably haven’t. Unfortunately, these kind of unpleasant encounters are all too familiar for correctional officers.

While placing an emphasis on recruiting correctional officers is essential, retention must also be at the forefront of every administrator’s mind, as this has become a recent ongoing issue. Harriet Fox touches on this issue, stating, “With retention issues, we may have understaffing, morale issues, diminished job satisfaction, and a decrease in organizational effectiveness.” With this issue comes the domino effect leading to a plethora of other issues.

So what exactly causes a low retention rate of correctional officers? The Marshall Project delved deep in an attempt to answer this question by analyzing online reviews from correctional officers. The officers were asked to answer honestly on their opinions of their jobs, and many of their answers most definitely did not glamorize the work.

For instance, in the article, What Prison Guards Really Think About Their Jobs, it was stated that a common sentiment was that “Prison administrators turn a blind eye to understaffing, low pay, and safety.” While it’s no secret that many people feel less than satisfied with their work hours and pay, fearing for your own safety every day on the job is a whole different story.

In fact, in July this past year, an officer in the Stillwater, MN prison quit after his fellow officer was beaten and killed by an inmate. Joe Miller, who had spent 13 years guarding Minnesota’s most dangerous criminals, walked away from a competitive salary and benefits out of respect for his friend and his own sanity.

Miller shared a warning another officer gave him years ago when these violent outbreaks began, saying, “We keep getting more and more inmates to Stillwater and not enough corrections officer someone is going to get hurt or killed.” Understaffing is a serious issue amongst the general workforce, but when it places employees in danger, there’s no question that it must be addressed.

Keeping Stress at Bay

For years, doctors have preached the importance of a good diet and loads of sleep for a healthy life. More recently, greater emphasis has been placed on keeping stress in check. The real secret to feeling like a million bucks? Start meditating or join a yoga class, because that’s where the money’s at! Only joking; there are plenty of mindfulness exercises you can perform without spending a dime.

However, instituting mindfulness exercises for your staff may be a great way to reduce turnover. Managing stress is crucial for officers in order to perform their best work, and these exercises are a great way to do that. According to Forbes, “stress in the workplace can be costly because it affects not just individual well-being but also organizational performance.”

In the general workforce, stress can be triggered by a multitude of things, whether it be meeting a deadline, conflicting interests with coworkers, or not meeting a quota. For correctional officers, these triggers could include handling multiple responsibilities, pay dissatisfaction, or fear of their own and others’ safety. Since it is important that our correctional officers perform their very best on duty, stress management is vital. Perhaps these issues could be addressed if optional management training or employee assistance programs (EAP) are implemented. After all, happy CO’s, happy facility.

Dressing to Impress

An infographic depicting a well-dressed interviewee.

Knowing how to recruit the best candidates also requires knowing a little bit about fashion. According to Michigan State University’s Career Services Network, recruiters base their first impressions on the appearance of the candidate. After all, no company wants to hire employees who look disheveled and unhygienic, but this is especially crucial for correctional facilities.

In order to gain respect and approval for the title they’ve earned, it’s vital that correctional officers appear clean-cut and well groomed. This is non-negotiable.

Not only does this help establish their credibility, it builds the reputation of the prison they work for and creates incentive for other professional candidates to be recruited and hired. touches on the importance of a CO’s appearance, stating, “Sloppiness and unkemptness does not portray the image of someone who cares about the job… Inmates may attempt to take advantage of an officer they feel they can push around.” That familiar proverbial, “Confidence is Key” has never been more accurate.

Coping With Mental Illness

Mental illness, a once taboo subject, has finally earned its rightful spot at the forefront of public discourse. As many people have probably figured out on their own, it is proven that mental health has a direct impact on physical wellbeing. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems…similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health.”

This is why it is essential for employees to stay on top of their physical and mental health. How can one properly concentrate and perform on the job when clouded with mental illness or suffering from physical ailments? They simply cannot, which is why this topic needs to be brought to light in prison facilities.

It seems only natural to assume that many prisoners living in incarceration face a great deal of mental illnesses, but what’s less-publicized is the amount of guards and officers who are plagued by this disease. Unfortunately, many correctional officers are faced with an increased risk of mental illness due to the requirements of their day to day duties. In the case where an officer at the Stillwater prison was beaten to death by an inmate, which sadly isn’t uncommon, Miller talked about the effects that wore on his mental stability.

According to the interview on CBS Local, “Miller says he couldn’t take the panic attacks anymore, and that he felt liked he’d grown into a different person…At a job where he says he felt all too often like the prisoner.”

Miller reflected on his decision to quit, saying he owed it to his sanity. What’s more, the mental state of prison employees can set the tone for the entire environment of the facility. The World Health Organization explains this phenomenon, stating, “A prison that is responsive to, and promotes the mental health of prisoners, is more likely to be a workplace that promotes the overall morale and mental health of prison staff and should therefore be one of the central objectives of good prison management.”

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Correctional Officers Test

Think just anyone can throw their name in the ring to be a correctional officer? Think again! Apart from having guts and patience, one must also pass the Correctional Officer Exam in order to land the job. The test covers three general areas: General Knowledge; Basic Skills; and Career-Specific Aptitude on professional standards, facility operations, inmate supervision, and other concepts in corrections. Other than being quite lengthy, the exam is notorious for being arduous.

In fact, according to, “Only a small percentage—roughly 3 to 4 percent of all applicants—proceed through the entire selection process, and the exam is one of the most common ares where applicants fail.” This exam is paramount in establishing the person’s cognitive and emotional tendencies before they are considered for hire. The effectiveness of this test has been proven time and time again to be superior.

Finding the right person for the job is essential, especially when a person’s job holds an immense amount of potential to influence others and their behavior. According to the American Bar Association, “It should be evident that we must select institutional personnel with regard to their ability to relate to inmates without hostility, without emotional dependence and untoward involvement and with a perceptiveness as to inmates’ motivations and needs.”

Never Stop Learning How to Recruit

Learning how to recruit correctional officers who don’t quit is a process, but it could possibly be the difference between life and death. The people you approve will a perform a role that requires as much responsibility as it does emotional fortitude. This is why knowing how to recruit and hire correctional officers is so valuable to jails and prisons.

By recruiting top of the line candidates for correctional officer positions, we can change the way prison facilities are run and, quite possibly, change lives. And once you’ve learned all there is to know about how to recruit great staff, you owe it to the next generation of jail administrators to pass that knowledge forward. That means teaching your staff how to recruit the best and brightest.