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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

How to Become a Correctional Officer in California

April 1, 2016

Editor’s Note: This article was edited on July 26, 2021 to include updated BLS data.

How to become a corrections officer in California

California has a huge amount of correctional facilities, community corrections centers and administrative offices that require correctional officers. Those considering California corrections jobs will find plenty of career opportunities, with competitive salaries in an in-demand profession.

If you’re considering a career as a correctional officer in California, you may have the following questions:

  • What are the requirements to become a correctional officer?
  • What is the hiring process like to become a correctional officer in California?
  • What skills are needed to become a correctional officer?
  • How can I stand out as an applicant when applying for a correctional officer job?
  • Do I need training to become a correctional officer?
  • How much do correctional officers make in California?

This article will provide answers to all of these questions, along with insights from experts in the field of corrections.

What are the Requirements to Become a Correctional Officer?

Like any job with the California Department of Corrections, there are specific requirements to become a correctional officer. The requirements to become a California correctional officer include:

  1. U.S. citizenship (or a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service accepting your application for citizenship)
  2. 21 years of age at the time of appointment to Correctional Peace Officer
  3. U.S. high school diploma and/or GED
  4. Physical fitness
  5. No felony convictions
  6. Be eligible to own/possess a firearm

What is the Hiring Process Like to Become a Correctional Officer in California?

The application for a job as a correctional officer includes an online application 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 Examination¹.

Candidates who successfully complete the Written Examination will be scheduled to attend the CDCR physical test² in the following month. Candidates will be fingerprinted by Live Scan after they pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT).

Personal History Statement and Investigations

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.

Vision Test and Employment Medical Examination

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 correctional officer program, 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 Become a Correctional Officer?

In California, correctional officers should have the following skills:

  • Demonstrated emotional maturity and stability to provide effective leadership in stressful situations
  • Empathy and understanding of persons in custody to effectively manage inmates
  • A satisfactory record as a law-abiding citizen, while maintaining a positive public image
  • Demonstrated leadership in program and services to show that they can effectively manage the inmate population
  • Demonstrated tact with others
  • Good personal and social adjustment for correctional work to maintain professionalism within the workplace
  • Demonstrated ability to maintain a neat personal appearance to demonstrate professionalism in the workplace
  • Demonstrated courage during dangerous and stressful situations
  • Demonstrated awareness of your environment
  • Demonstrated ability to respond to emergency situations
  • Motivation to perform tasks with due diligence direction

How Can I Stand Out as an Applicant When Applying for a Correctional Officer Job?

The best way to prepare for the Written Examination is to view the Sample Written Selection³ available on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) website.

While the questions are different from those on the Sample Written Selection on the CDCR site, candidates can gain a grasp of what analytical skills will be expected of them, and the scenarios officers encounter on a daily basis.

Additionally, candidates could prepare for the written examination by taking courses in Criminal Justice: Corrections, Math, and English.

Do I need training to become a correctional officer?

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

An Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice: Corrections can not only help to provide students with the analytical skills and abilities that could help them do better on the exam, but could also potentially enhance students’ ability to promote up the chain of command once they enter the profession

What Can I Expect Once I’m Hired as a Correctional Officer?

All correctional officers will be on probation for the first 12 qualifying pay periods. Once a correctional officer is assigned to an institution, he or 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 watches.

During the two-year apprentice period, correctional 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 housing officer, yard officer, visiting room officer, culinary officer, transportation officer, search and escort officer, tower officer, and administrative segregation officer.

How Much Do Correctional Officers Make in California?

California is one of the highest-paying states for correctional officers4 (Source:, May 2020), with an annual mean wage of $81,100. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several of the top-paying metropolitan areas in the country for corrections officers are in California, including Bakersfield, Stockton, San Bernardino, Ontario, Sacramento, San Diego, and Fresno.

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 ranges5 are between $3,788 and $7,782 per month. Benefits include:

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

Learn More About SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections Program

The criminal justice profession provides several in-demand career opportunities, including careers as correctional officers. To learn more about enrolling in SJVC’s Criminal Justice: Corrections Program, view our program details and request more information today!



Learn More About A Career In Criminal Justice: Corrections

Criminal Justice: Corrections can open doors to work in private, state, federal prisons or local jails as well as in private security in California. Learn how to join this exciting career and why you should pursue a correctional officer degree.

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