How to become a correctional officer in California

by Susie on April 1, 2016 · 10:00 am

Are you interested in becoming a California correctional officer?

How to become a corrections officer in CaliforniaCheck out our Q&A with Fresno Criminal Justice: Corrections instructor Manuel Graves to learn all about the training, requirements and process of becoming a California correctional officer. Instructor Graves was employed with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for 29 years before retiring in 2014. He held numerous positions in custody, classification and management. Here he shares information learned from his experience as well as sourced from the CDCR website.

What are the requirements to become a correctional officer?

First, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) accepting your application for citizenship.

You also:

  • Must be at least 21 years of age at the time of appointment to Correctional Peace Officer
  • Have a U.S. high school diploma and/or GED
  • Be in good physical condition
  • Have no felony convictions
  • Be eligible to own/possess a firearm

What is the hiring process like to become a correctional officer in California?

The application for correctional officer is an online process. The hiring process is lengthy and can take as long as 12 to 18 months to complete.

Once your application has been received, you will be notified within four to six months of the date of your Written Examination.

Candidates who successfully complete the Written Examination will be scheduled to attend the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) in the following month. Candidates will be fingerprinted by Live Scan after they pass the PFT.

Candidates are required to complete the Personal History Statement (PHS). The PHS is an extensive document used to collect information regarding applicants’ past residences, acquaintances and employment histories. All responses to questions answered within the submitted PHS will be verified through the background investigation and Computerized Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) examination.Candidates will be scheduled for the Pre-Investigatory Interview (PII), which is the beginning of the Background Investigation (BI) process. The purpose of this recorded interview is to provide the opportunity to clarify information submitted by the candidate for the position applied.

Candidates must go through a thorough background investigation prior to their appointment or training as a Correctional Peace Officer. Once a candidate’s background investigation has been cleared, the information is sent to the Psychological Screening Unit. Candidates will be scheduled for a written Peace Officer Psychological Evaluation (POPE). This evaluation consists of a series of questions candidates respond to based upon their personal preferences. The information will be used in the Oral POPE.

Candidates also will be scheduled for a vision test. This test checks a candidate’s visual acuity and color vision. If the candidate does not have 20/20 vision in each eye, a written certification is required from an optometrist or ophthalmologist indicating that vision is correctable to 20/20 in each eye.

In addition, candidates will be scheduled for an Employment Medical Examination.

Prior to reporting to the Basic Correctional Officer Academy (BOCA), candidates are responsible for ensuring they are free from tuberculosis with a certification from their physician.

After successfully completing all of the selection components, candidates are placed on the certification list, which gives them eligibility to be appointed as a Correctional Peace Officer. All candidates eligible for appointment as a Correctional Peace Officer must successfully complete the 12-week Basic Correctional Officer Academy.

What skills are needed to be a correctional officer?

It’s important that candidates:

  • Have emotional maturity and stability to provide effective leadership in stressful situations
  • Be empathetic and objective to understanding of persons in custody to effectively manage inmates
  • Have a satisfactory record as a law-abiding citizen to maintain a positive public image
  • Demonstrate leadership in program and services to show that they can effectively manage inmate population
  • Be able to demonstrate tact with others
  • Have good personal and social adjustment for correctional work to maintain professionalism within the workplace
  • Keep a neat personal appearance to demonstrate professionalism within the workplace
  • Show courage during dangerous and stressful situations
  • Be aware of your environment and be able to respond to emergency situations
  • Be motivated to perform tasks with due diligence direction

How can I prepare myself so I stand out when applying to be a correctional officer?

The best way to prepare for the Written Examination is to view the Sample Written Selection Exam available on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) website. While the real questions are different, candidates can gain a grasp of what analytical skills will be expected of them, as well as an idea of certain scenarios officers encounter on a daily basis.

In addition to viewing the Sample Written Selection Exam, candidates can also prepare for the written examination by taking courses in Criminal Justice: Corrections, Math and English.

In order to prepare for the Physical Fitness Test (PFT), students should engage in a physical fitness program designed to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength.

Do I need training to become a correctional officer?

An Associate Degree or Certificate in Criminal Justice: Corrections can not only provide students with the analytical skills and abilities required to do better on the exam, but can also enhance students’ ability to promote up the chain of command once they enter the profession.

What can I expect once I’m hired and start my career?

All correctional officers will be on probation for the first 12 qualifying pay periods. Once a correctional officer is assigned to an institution, he/she will normally be placed in a job assignment and attend orientation. New corrections officers will be assigned to one of three shifts, also known as a watches. During the two-year apprentice period, Corrections Officers will alternate between different job positions and watches to gain broad experience in corrections. They may also be assigned as vacation and holiday relief officers.

There are many job positions where correctional officers may work including, but not limited to, housing officer, yard officer, visiting room officer, culinary officer, transportation officer, search and escort officer, tower officer and administrative segregation officer.

How much do corrections officers make in California?

California is the second highest-paying state for correctional officers (Source:, May 2015), with an annual mean wage of $69,040 annually. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-paying metropolitan areas in California for corrections officers are Bakersfield, San Bernardino – Riverside – Ontario, San Diego – Carlsbad and Stockton – Lodi.

Corrections officers in California are paid at various salary ranges based on experience, education and level of training. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, correctional officer salary ranges are between $3,050 and $6,389 per month, or between $36,600 and $76,668 annually. Benefits include:

  •  Medical, Dental and Vision
  • Sick and Vacation Leave
  • Paid Holidays
  • Recruitment Incentive
  • Bilingual Pay
  • Education Bonus
  • Annual Physical Fitness Incentive Pay
  • 401(k) Plan/Deferred Compensation

SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections program can prepare you for a career as a correctional officer in approximately 14 months. If you have questions about the program or would like to learn about enrolling, call 866-544-7898 or request information online.



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Posted in Criminal Justice: Corrections / Fresno