Reasons for Correctional Officer Turnover

The explanations for the correctional officer turnover rate has been attributed to many causes. Organizational commitment, supervision of inmates, and the investigations and monitoring of special populations and cause voluntary termination of employment. These causes are valid, yet it leaves correctional institutions short-staffed and under-trained on many occasions. This, in turn, puts staff and inmates in potentially dangerous situations given the offenders they are tasked to supervise and the environment. 

Corrections Officer Turnover 

There is a high rate of turnover for the correctional officer for many reasons. The correctional officer is a unique and dangerous occupation. It cannot be taken lightly by the employee due to the nature of the position. It involves a set of unique training and skills that only the correctional officer obtains through training, education, and experience. These individuals are hired because of these unique knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). Even these things may not be enough on any given day of work. These are the front-line individuals and the most important asset for any correctional institution. A person may take apply for this job for several personal reasons, but they leave the job for only a few reasons.

The issue regarding voluntary turnover by employees has registered as high in some states as 77% in 2002 and 76% in 2003 (Ikwukananne, I., 2009). Certainly, the departure of employees causes a strain on the agencies monetarily and many other ways. Costs accrue for separation, learning, and other costs associated with separation. The KSA’s associated with persons varies: 45% of correctional officers who voluntarily left had a high school diploma, 34% had some college, 9% had some technical training, and 6% had a bachelor’s degree. The highest percentage of those who left voluntarily was 42% and they did so because of other job opportunities (Ikwukananne, 2009). Because better job opportunities with better salaries would be one issue why officers leave voluntarily, then correctional officer salaries must be to a standard to compete with other industries.

The correctional officer is tasked with supervising involuntary inmates in less-than-hospitable conditions. The primary responsibility is to confine these individuals against their will. These leads to physical injury and possible death for the correctional officer. The inmates are violent and sometimes mentally unstable. The correctional officer must be trained to deal with inmates that are in segregation, that are vulnerable to sexual assault, inmates that have mental and physical disabilities, and those with serious medical conditions (Deitch, 2009). Attempting to locate the individuals that are merit the costs of hiring with all the abilities to handle these types of inmates is difficult. There must be a prison administration comparable to goals of facility and agency. Administrators and advocates share these goals: 1) ensuring that prisons are safe for both inmates and staff; 2) treating prisoners respectfully and humanely; 3) preventing re-offending; and 4) meeting constitutional requirements (Deitch, p. 294). Using these goals and oversight, the special populations can be properly influenced.

 One specific job duty can include investigation and monitoring. These investigations are relevant in addressing these special populations. The investigation is an essential part of providing accountability for the inmate(s) involved. Monitoring is a preventative form of oversight, striving to prevent any future events. These inmates demand an amplified level of scrutiny. They are the ones most likely to be subjected to mistreatment or the ones whose needs are least likely to be met. This investigations and monitoring, along with general duties, could lead to a higher job stress level.

 To this point, these issues can lead to correctional officer turnover. They are job duties that are not necessarily listed on the job description. The main reason for correctional officer turnover is organizational commitment (Lambert, et al., 2007). A correctional officer must have this commitment to achieve high levels of success throughout their employment. Daly (2002) lists five groups of personnel that must be held accountable for organizational behavior: 1) the warden, assistant warden, security chief, and clinical supervisor for which responsibility for the enter prison facility exist. 2) majors, captains, lieutenants, counselors, supervisors, program supervisors carry out the orders which in turn help to maintain balance in the prison population. 3) security personnel carry out orders related to prisoner welfare. 4) technical personnel oversee and monitor certain aspects of facility operation. 5) the office staff and clerical assistants generally are applicable to any type of working organization.

 In conclusion, the reasons for correctional officer turnover vary from organizational commitment from administration to the correctional officer, as well as the difficult job duties assigned to the correctional officer. Finally, the correctional officer supervision, investigation, and monitoring of special populations within the prison cause significant strain on the officer.


Daly, W. C. (2002). Shades of gray in prison administration. Education, (3), 488.

Deitch, M. (2010). Special Populations and the Importance of Prison Oversight. American Journal of Criminal Law. 37(3). 291-315.

Ikwukananne, I. (2009). Correctional Officer Turnover: Of Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy And Herzberg’s Motivation Theory. Public Personnel Management. 38(2). 69-82.

Lambert, E., Hogan, N., Barton, S., Jiang, S., & Baker, D. (2008). The Impact of Punishment and Rehabilitation Views on Organizational Commitment Among Correctional Staff: A Preliminary Study. American Journal Of Criminal Justice, 33(1), 85-98. doi:10.1007/s12103-007-9026-7


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