Youth corrections promise to transform the lives of juveniles and their communities. Highly enthusiastic and empathetic juvenile correctional officers, who are committed to supporting and empowering at-risk youths are central to this endeavor. Their goal: to help juveniles develop critical skills while also promoting the safety and wellbeing of the entire community.
According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, approximately 25,000 juveniles were incarcerated in American detention centers as of 2020. While this represents a significant downward trend, there is still a strong need for correctional officers who understand the complications and opportunities that come with supervising minors.
This field is chock full of personal and professional opportunities, but there are also significant challenges to be considered. To illuminate both sides, we've provided a detailed youth correctional officer job description that encompasses the unique realities of this criminal justice niche.
What is a Youth Correctional Officer?
In many ways, the role of a youth correctional officer mimics that of the more typical correctional officers who oversee adults. Both types of criminal justice professionals supervise incarcerated individuals, overseeing their various activities within detection facilities while also maintaining order.
The key difference, of course, is that youth correctional officers work with at-risk minors, often within dedicated juvenile detention centers. This population has different needs and challenges that must be carefully addressed to facilitate learning and rehabilitation. There are also distinct regulatory concerns to keep in mind, as strict administrative procedures strive to maintain safe and orderly environments for incarcerated youth.
Education and Requirements
Youth correctional officers receive extensive training in all areas of criminal justice. Candidates with a bachelor's or master's degree
s are highly preferred, as this conveys a more thorough understanding of ethical concerns and public policy. Youth corrections officers must also demonstrate a clear understanding of de-escalation techniques, which are repeatedly called upon when dealing with violent or disruptive behavior.
Other common requirements include:
- Sufficient physical strength, including the ability to stand for extended periods of time, along with frequent bending, stooping, or even running.
- Candidates over the age of 21 are strongly preferred, with many positions imposing strict age requirements.
- Training in CPR, AED, and basic first aid is often required.
- Criminal background checks and even pre-employment drug tests may be required during the hiring process.
Common Duties and Responsibilities
Job responsibilities can vary based on where youth correctional officers work and in what capacity. In general, this role involves supervising at-risk youth as they participate in a variety of activities or interventions within detention facilities and in other locations. Examples of activities that call for oversight include:
- Recreational activities
- School and homework
- Court visits
- Medical appointments
Depending on where these essentials are located, correctional officers may be called on to escort detained youth. This is an especially common area of need for court hearings and appointments, as well as job or training sites.
Other possible responsibilities include:
- Conduct searches for contraband items upon intake or if there is a reasonable suspicion of these items' presence.
- Inspect security and control access systems, including doors, windows, and facility grounds.
- Supervise and support efforts for detained youth to transition and re-integrate into the community.
- Implement suicide prevention strategies for at-risk individuals.
- Monitor living spaces and communal areas to ensure that they are safe, sanitary, and comfortable.
- Abide by established procedures and maintain full compliance when responding to physical altercations or other incidents.
At all times, youth correctional officers must model prosocial behavior and help detained minors learn how to adopt the habits and practices that will help them successfully re-integrate and, hopefully, avoid incarceration in the future.
Benefits of Working as a Youth Correctional Officer
There is no denying the challenging nature of youth corrections. Stress levels can be high, but so are the stakes — youth correctional officers feel responsible for keeping their communities safe, while also supporting the unique emotional needs of the youth they supervise and support. With these difficulties, however, come wonderful opportunities to achieve personal career satisfaction and a strong sense of meaning.
The challenges of youth corrections are a lot easier to manage if you are aware of what makes this field so compelling to you, and have goals you wish to accomplish as you work with at-risk youth. Your personal sources of motivation may shift over time, but you will no doubt be inspired by at least a few of these unique advantages:
Educate the Youth
The juvenile justice system holds many overarching goals and, while community safety is a worthwhile endeavor, educational initiatives are just as important. Juvenile detention facilities and programs provide opportunities for at-risk youth to build impactful skills, which will serve them not only as they navigate the challenges of detention and re-integration, but also far into the future.
Youth correction officers often play an integral role in implementing or even designing targeted programs meant to teach and develop critical skills. This may occur under the oversight of behavior management systems. Seeing minors develop and practice such skills can be deeply gratifying, especially if these young individuals successfully use targeted techniques to overcome personal or social struggles that previously felt overwhelming.
Act as a Role Model and Mentor
As we've mentioned, modeling serves as one of the most impactful forms of youth education within the juvenile detention environment. Through ongoing observation of youth correctional officers and other staff members, detained minors can learn how responsible adults behave in difficult situations — and how they manage both crises and ongoing stress.
Incarcerated juveniles also gain a great deal through simply interacting with youth corrections staff, often in a mentorship capacity. These connections help at-risk youth gain greater confidence and empathy while also encouraging them to develop a much-needed sense of community.
Harm and Violence Prevention
Violence is a troubling possibility within juvenile detention centers, but youth correctional officers can play a valuable role in keeping these settings as safe and orderly as possible. This begins with designing a secure environment, complete with strong access control and prevention of contraband items. Clearly conveyed rules that encourage incarcerated minors to show respect for staff members, other detainees, and themselves are also necessary for keeping a sage environment.
De-escalation is a crucial component of modern youth corrections. It involves maintaining a sense of calm even during emotionally charged situations. This calm can then be transferred to struggling juveniles while still setting clear boundaries. De-escalation skills are valuable in all areas of daily life, including personal relationships and even parenting. Many correctional officers find that, once they develop and embrace these skills, their personal lives become a lot more fulfilling.
Challenges a Youth Correctional Office Faces
Youth corrections can be a highly rewarding field, but there's no denying its challenges. Not everyone is cut out for this job — but quality training and resources can make a world of difference in achieving success in this field. As you consider whether this unique career path might be in your future, be mindful of these key concerns:
Behavior and mental health issues abound within detention centers. A wealth of evidence reveals a strong link between mental health concerns and juvenile detention, with research from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency suggesting that over 70% of young people who enter these detention centers have some sort of mental health disorder. Often, these health disorders have been present for years and gone untreated. These issues are frequently exacerbated by poverty or poor relationships with parental figures.
Unfortunately, these challenges often manifest in problematic behavior. Those detained may act out by behaving aggressively around correctional officers or attacking fellow detainees. Simple routines can feel difficult to encourage or enforce in such settings, where disruptions are common and violent behavior is always a possibility.
Variable Work Schedule
The need for supervision certainly doesn't end when the 9-to-5 workday lets up. As such, youth correctional officers frequently find themselves working evenings and weekends.
For some, this can be a hidden advantage, depending on family schedules or personal sleep habits. In addition, evening or weekend hours are often accompanied by significant boosts in pay. However, correction officers often find these hours draining,
— particularly if schedules shift on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, scheduling complications are well within the realm of possibility, as division programming adjustments often result in shift schedule changes for officers and other detention center employees. Long hours are also common, with many positions involving ten-hour shifts. Though, there are some flexible and part-time jobs available.
Working Long Hours and Holidays
It's common knowledge that giving up weekends may be necessary when working in corrections, but not everyone is prepared for the difficult prospect of sacrificing holidays. Again, the need for supervision does not disappear on Christmas, the 4th of July, or other special occasions. While staff members may rotate holiday shifts and get some say regarding which holidays, they work, there is a strong likelihood of missing out on at least some special celebrations.
Unique Work Locations
The typical place of employment for a youth correctional officer is a dedicated juvenile detention center, although other settings may also be involved — particularly when supervisory services are required while escorting young people to essential appointments.
Wherever they serve, your correctional officers must consistently be aware of security concerns. A growing body of research indicates that work environment can have a strong impact on job satisfaction among youth correctional officers, and
, unfortunately, these environments aren't always ideal.
Explore Criminal Justice with Lindenwood Online!
Youth corrections may be challenging, but even the most concerning issues can be addressed through quality training and a strong sense of passion. Whether you envision a future in youth corrections or another facet of criminal justice, you can make a meaningful difference if you develop the right skills and acquire an in-demand degree.
At Lindenwood University Online, we are proud to provide multiple online degree programs that can help prepare you to become a correctional officer for youth. You'll gain a strong foundation as you seek your Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice. If you hope to move into leadership roles, the Master of Justice in Criminal Justice Administration will give you the elite skills needed to move up the criminal justice career ladder. Reach out today to learn more about these and other compelling opportunities.