An online corrections degree opens numerous career opportunities throughout the criminal justice system. While graduates with a bachelor's in corrections often provide security in courts of law and maintain order in detention facilities, this degree can appeal to students interested in all aspects of the punishment, supervision, and rehabilitation of individuals convicted of crimes.
Many entry-level positions require only a high school diploma or associate degree, but earning a correctional officer degree online leads to better-paying job possibilities in managerial and supervisory roles. This guide provides useful information about the field of corrections, application and graduation requirements for accredited online programs, and career and salary prospects.
Overview of Corrections Degrees
Students enrolled in a criminal justice corrections degree online or in an on-campus program learn about applicable laws and the daily operations and functions of courts, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities. Online corrections degrees offer the same curriculum as traditional campus-based programs and lead to comparable job opportunities. They also provide flexible, convenient schedules for working professionals, parents with childcare obligations, or others with commitments that may hamper their ability to enroll in a traditional campus-based program. The most flexible online programs deliver courses asynchronously, with web-based classes available when it best suits a student. Some schools rely on hybrid or synchronously delivered formats, which require online meetings at specific times and days, occasional travel to campus for face-to-face classes, or on-campus residencies to complete seminars or supervised internships.
While the demand for correctional professionals varies by location, degree holders enter the job market with a competitive advantage and desirable skills that translate into career opportunities in law enforcement, homeland security, institutional corrections, community-based corrections, crime mapping research, rehabilitation services, and counseling.
Application requirements for online degrees vary by school and program, but most colleges and universities use similar criteria for determining students' eligibility. Most institutions require a minimum 2.5 GPA, and many programs require SAT or ACT scores. However, some online programs that appeal to working professionals or students returning to school after several years may not require standardized test scores or a minimum GPA. These online programs usually place more weight on cumulative academic performance; they also consider prior work experience and community or extracurricular service.
Most schools require official, sealed transcripts from your high school and any previously attended colleges. You must also provide three or more letters of recommendation from teachers or supervisors who can speak directly about your preparedness for college-level work. Many schools request a personal essay that explains how you came to be interested in corrections and describes your career goals. If you plan to apply to several programs, keep in mind that it can get expensive. Application fees are $40-$80, although students demonstrating financial hardships may request a fee waiver.
What Will I Learn?
A criminal justice corrections degree online requires approximately 120 credits, and is usually completed in four years of full-time study. Some accelerated online programs can be finished in 18-24 months. Bachelor degrees typically allocate 50-60 credits for general education requirements: 30-35 credits for foundations and required classes in the corrections major, and the remaining credits for electives.
Coursework requirements differ from school to school, but most online corrections degrees include courses on the criminal justice system, adult and juvenile institutions, correctional law and criminal procedure, probation and parole, and best practices for professionals. Some programs include courses in the social sciences that address theoretical and research applications for correctional settings. Electives cover special topics in mass incarceration, community-based corrections, and the needs of diverse inmate populations. While curricula varies by program, this list describes the kinds of courses you may take in an undergraduate corrections major.
Introduction to Corrections
This course examines the administration and operations of correctional institutions in the U.S. Topics include the philosophy of punishment and corrections, the historical development of U.S. penal systems, institutional policies, and best practices for correctional professionals. Students also address contemporary issues such as inmate rights, privatization, and alternative models of corrections.
The American Prison System
Students examine the major components of the U.S. prison system: community-based corrections, including jails, probation, and supervision, and institutional corrections with an emphasis on the prison experience, management and staffing, and special inmate populations. Course content addresses community supervision, offender re-entry, legal implications of three-strike laws, capital punishment, and the future of corrections.
Probation and Parole
As the prison population expands, probation and parole become widely employed alternatives to incarceration in an already overcrowded system. This course examines the history of probation and parole, administrative practices, policies and procedures currently in use, and emerging issues and contemporary controversies including caseload management, the use of paraprofessionals, and privatization.
Legal Issues for Correctional Professionals
Students seeking careers as corrections officers must understand the role of the courts in complaints against correctional professionals, inmate rights, their own rights, and types of lawsuits inmates file. In addition to these issues, this course examines recent court decisions about inmates' religious practices, receipt of mail, visitation policy, and discipline.
This course introduces students to contemporary probation and parole practices. Topics also cover alternative corrections programs that offer services to divert offenders from incarceration by providing intensive supervision and structured, community-based rehabilitative and residential options. Students examine the effectiveness of intermediate sanctions such as electronic monitoring, house arrest, restitution, and restorative justice models.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Corrections?
An online corrections degree prepares students for a variety of professional roles. The best programs provide their students with a background in legal practices and procedures related to incarceration, parole and probation, and rehabilitation of criminal offenders. Coursework enables students to develop professional strategies and communication skills for supervising and interacting with offenders. This section describes the core skills and competencies acquired in a corrections major and provides information about career opportunities and salary potential.
The top online corrections degrees provide students with the knowledge and techniques to maintain order and provide supervision in correctional, courtroom, and rehabilitative settings. Graduates enter the field with proven tools and applications to work with inmates, parolees, and offenders on probation. They also build communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Some degrees emphasize research applications such as crime mapping and geographic profiling. Other programs offer electives that introduce best practices for working with juveniles, female offenders, and other special populations. Graduates planning on careers in law enforcement and correctional facilities benefit from courses on criminal procedure, due process, and arrest and sentencing protocols. Unlike those individuals who enter the field with only a high school diploma or associate degree, graduates with a bachelor's receive training in correctional administration, leadership styles, budgeting, and personnel management — all essential skills for supervisory positions and career advancement.
Potential Careers and Salaries
While a bachelor's degree in corrections cannot guarantee employment, it offers a competitive edge in the marketplace and access to well-paying career possibilities. Although specific job opportunities vary, correctional professionals at all levels can find placements in the criminal justice and prison system. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6% increase in the employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. These occupations generally require a bachelor's degree along with specialized training, a competency exam, drug test, and a background check.
Federal and state facilities continue to hire skilled correctional officers, corporals, sergeants, and detention deputies. Correctional agencies continue to develop new approaches to deal with budgetary pressures as a result of growing inmate populations and overcrowded prisons. Degree holders will likewise find expanding career opportunities in cost-effective community-based, rehabilitative, and alternative treatment programs designed to reduce recidivism and parole or probation violations.
Annual Mean Salary: $43,510
Corrections officers maintain order in prisons and jails. They supervise individuals who have been arrested or awaiting trial, and monitor offenders who have been sentenced to serve time. They report on inmate conduct and inspect facilities to ensure that they meet security standards.
Annual Mean Salary: $35,672
Correctional treatment specialists supervise probationers and parolees. They develop rehabilitation plans and evaluate offenders using psychological assessments to develop release plans and parole guidelines. Their duties may include setting up counseling for offenders and their families, arranging for substance abuse treatment, and assisting with job training.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Corrections?
While many jobs in corrections do not require an undergraduate degree, an increasing number of positions list a bachelor's degree in corrections or a related field as the minimum educational credential for applicants. Individuals planning to work in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, for example, must have a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's provides a competitive advantage to anyone seeking employment as a correctional officer or probation specialist. It can also lead to managerial positions in many correctional settings.
For those who aspire to higher-ranking supervisory positions such as a prison warden, federal agent, or security manager, a graduate degree in a field related to corrections may be required. Although relatively few graduate programs focus specifically on corrections, several institutions offer master's and doctorate degrees in criminal justice and criminology. Corrections officers, police, FBI agents, and other law enforcement personnel with graduate training usually receive higher salaries and accelerated pathways to promotion.
Accreditation for Corrections Bachelor's Programs
Before selecting an online corrections degree, make sure you understand what accreditation means. This designation affects your ability to transfer credits and receive federal financial aid; it also determines how graduate schools or a prospective employer evaluates your degree. Most schools receive national or regional accreditation from independent accrediting agencies — such as the Higher Learning Commission — which attest to their academic standards and financial integrity. Many four-year, degree-granting institutions hold regional accreditation, usually regarded as the most prestigious and popular designation. Technical, vocational, and for-profit schools usually acquire national accreditation.
In addition to these regional or national designations, some academic programs obtain specialized accreditation. For example, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) awards programmatic accreditation to a small group of high-quality master's programs in criminal justice. However, because no such programmatic accreditation currently exists for undergraduate corrections programs, students should ensure that the schools they consider for their online degree hold either regional or national accreditation.
Corrections Professional Organizations
Professional associations in various areas of corrections offer students an important venue for developing professional networks, staying current with new developments, and gaining access to continuing education and other career-enhancing opportunities. This list describes a few of the best-known professional associations in the field. Some of these organizations offer discounted student memberships; access to networking events, conferences and webinars; professional development credits and online training workshops; and job boards and other career resources that provide a competitive edge for students and graduates preparing to enter the workplace.
American Correctional Association
Founded as the National Prison Association in 1870, ACA has emerged as one of the leading organizations for corrections professionals. It serves as both a professional association and an accrediting body for the corrections industry. Members receive complimentary subscriptions, invitations to networking opportunities, and discounts on continuing education courses, conferences, and other programs.
American Probation and Parole Association
APPA represents probation and parole personnel working with adult and juvenile offenders. Its membership also includes educators, public policy advocates, activists, and private citizens interested in criminal and juvenile justice with a commitment to reducing recidivism and enhancing public safety. The APPA website features an online resource library and links to training programs.
International Association of Correctional Training Personnel
Since its establishment in 1974, IACTP advocates for the humane treatment of offenders by promoting organizational and individual excellence in the training of corrections professionals, including trainers, training administrators, and educators. Membership benefits include discounted registration for its Annual National Training and Performance Conference and a subscription to its quarterly journal and webinar series.