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What does a Prison Guard do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A prison guard watches over prisoners inside and outside the confines of local and regional jails and prisons. He makes sure they adhere to schedules for work, recreation, rest and counseling. When prisoners are required to travel from one area to another inside the compound or to other destinations on or off the property, a prison guard escorts them. He is in charge of keeping the prisoners orderly and making sure they follow policies and procedures.

The scope of a prison guard’s responsibility is often dictated by the size of the prison and how fully it is staffed. If the facility is small, the guard may also serve as an informal counselor. This regularly entails advising inmates on rules and behavior, listening to complaints and attempting to meet their needs while following institutional protocol. If staff is limited, he may also be the person in charge of screening mail and visitors for contraband or restricted materials.

The security of the physical facility is normally the job of a prison guard. He regularly conducts patrols of the site to ensure all gates, bars, locks and windows are secure. Checking for fire and safety infringements is traditionally part of the guard’s job as well.

Monitoring activity in the prison yard is also an important job duty as guards may spot possible conflicts and end them before they escalate into serious altercations. Prison guards are traditionally well trained in defense tactics as well as in the use of firearms, handcuffs and other restraining devices. They are frequently required to intervene in volatile situations to prevent violent outbreaks in the prison population.

The job of prison guard customarily entails handling a significant amount of paperwork. His job typically requires him to keep records of prisoner behavior and work progress. Regular reports on inmate disturbances and atypical occurrences are commonly required. Schedules for prisoner appointments are regularly prepared by a prison guard. Compiling written instructions for work assigned to prisoners is often the job of a prison guard.

Requirements to qualify for the job of prison guard are highly dependent upon the region or vicinity in which the correctional facility is located. Qualifications may also vary according to the security level provided. Minimum age requirements vary between 18 and 21 years. Some prisons require a bachelor’s degree, but regularly accept three years of counseling or supervision background or a combination of experience and education in lieu of the bachelor’s degree. Most systems require applicants to pass a written exam to assess writing and communication skills and to pass psychological and physical fitness tests. Probationary training periods at many facilities last an average of six months.

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Discussion Comments

By mobilian33 — On Nov 21, 2014

Pay is relative, but prison guards make more money than a lot of people. And it's not as if they are forced to take the jobs. They know what they are getting into when they decide to work with prison inmates.

By Feryll — On Nov 20, 2014

What I find interesting about prisons is that some are operated by governments, but there are also many private prisons. If you get a prison guard job in a federal prison the position is going to be different from the same job in a state prison, and definitely much different than this position in a privately run prison.

There are enough complaints to go around in any prison, but according to what I have read, some of the private prisons are run very badly. I read an account from a former guard who worked in a private prison, and he said that their equipment and training were sacrificed so the company operating the prison could make more money.

The guard said that in addition to putting them in danger in this way, the company also paid them low wages and made them work irregular shifts, adding to the stress of the job.

By Drentel — On Nov 19, 2014

@Laotionne - The prison guards who are mingling with the prisoners and working directly with them doing the course of a day don't carry guns. I think this is true in all prisons. The guards in the towers who are the sharpshooters have guns on them all of the time in case of an emergency.

There are also places in the prison where guns are locked away until they are needed. Then they are passed out to the guards who don't normally carry weapons in emergencies such as riots or jail breaks.

By Laotionne — On Nov 19, 2014
I know prison guards have guns, but I am wondering what do they do to make sure the prisoners don't get the guns. I know there are instances where prisoners attack guards.
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