How to Become a Prison Warden in the US

prison warden

Prison wardens are top correctional officials tasked with ensuring efficient running of the day-to-day activities in prisons. They work with a range of other professionals, including unit managers, to maintain a safe and healthy prison. This work requires vast administrative experience and an in-depth knowledge of human behaviour and institutional psychology.

The work

The duties of prison wardens include:

  • Maintaining a safe working environment for prison workers
  • Recruiting, training, promoting and firing staff members
  • Preparing duty rota for the prison staff since prisons work on 24 hour basis
  • Ensuring the federal, state and local prison rules and regulations are being followed
  • Initiating education, infirmary, work and mental health programs for inmates
  • Ensuring orders, such as transferring an inmate to another facility, are executed smoothly
  • Reviewing expenditures and creating budgets for the prison
  • Ordering new monitoring and security equipment, as well as overseeing their installation
  • Creating new policies and procedures
  • Maintaining records of inmates and prison staff.

Work environment

Prison wardens work for about 40hours, Monday to Friday. During security emergencies, they must be ready to handle the situation.

Although prison wardens spend much of their time in offices, they also regularly conduct inspections and preside over staff meetings.

It is also important to note that this job could be dangerous because of the violent and unruly nature of the convicts.


The following table shows the salaries for managers of correctional officers/prison wardens in local, state and federal prisons.


Annual mean wage

Local prisons


State prisons


Federal prisons


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Entry requirements

To become a prison warden, you must first start as a correctional officer to gain experience and familiarize yourself with the workings of a correctional facility. To get started as a correctional officer, you must have a high school diploma and complete special training that covers:

  • Self-defense
  • Institutional policies
  • Prison regulations
  • Custody and security procedures.

You can then pursue a bachelor’s degree in fields such as:

  • Social work
  • Public administration
  • Criminal justice.

Once you become a degree holder, you can then be able to rise through the ranks and reach the top position in a prison; that of the prison warden.

Important skills and abilities

To become a successful prison warden you should have:

  • A detailed knowledge of administration of correctional facilities
  • A good understanding of human behaviour and psychology
  • Strong administrative and leadership skills
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • The ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds
  • An intricate understanding of prisoners’ rights
  • An awareness of safety and health issues in correctional facilities.

Career development

After getting a job, you will also be taken through an on-the-job training program that covers areas such as legal restrictions and interpersonal relations. You will also be required to take annual in-service training with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to keep up with new developments and procedures.

To give your career advancement prospects a boost, you can:

  • Earn a professional certification, such as the American Jail Association’s Certified Jail Officer
  • Pursue a master’s degree in public or business administration.

Job opportunities

Prison wardens are mainly employed by:

  • The federal government
  • State governments
  • The local authorities – City or county governments
  • Private correctional companies.

With vast experience and an advanced degree, you can become the head of prisons in your county or state. If you’re very ambitious, you can be appointed the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Finally, with the BLS projecting a 5 percent job growth for all correctional officers within the next 8 years, aspiring prison wardens will face fierce competition for jobs. Fortunately, things are not as thick in the private sector. Privately-owned correctional facilities will continue to hire more prison wardens.

Good luck!