Skills Prison Guard in Canada

Find out what skills you typically need to work as a prison guard in Canada. These skills are applicable to all Correctional service officers (NOC 4422).


People working in this occupation usually apply the following skill set.

  • Escort detainees in transit and during temporary leaves
  • Supervise offenders during work assignments, meals and recreation periods
  • Patrol assigned areas
  • Observe behaviour of offenders and prepare reports
  • Prepare admission, program, release, transfer and other reports
  • Supervise and co-ordinate the work of other correctional service officers
  • Observe conduct and behaviour of offenders and detainees to prevent disturbances and escapes

Skills and knowledge

The following skills and knowledge are usually required in this occupation.

Essential skills

See how the 9 essential skills apply to this occupation.

  • Read logs reporting events and incidents from the previous shift. (1)
  • Read memos, bulletins and letters from courts, other correctional facilities, teachers, ministers, other correctional officers or volunteers. These may include requests for materials, information about policy changes or details about inmates. (2)
  • Read request forms completed by inmates and correctional service officers to ensure they have been completed properly and to follow up on requests. (2)
  • Read legal files on inmates, including warrants of committal, remand and release information. (2)
  • Read supervisor reports. (2)
  • Read performance reports or case worker reports on each inmate. (3)
  • Read and synthesize case histories of inmates in file or computer format. These consist of court documents, inmate requests, medical, family and offence history, psychological profiles and documentation on progress and participation in programming. (4)
  • Read institute 'rules and regulations' manuals, to check for changes in policies and review correct implementation of rules. For example, they read about what inmates are allowed to wear, visitation policies and procedures to follow when charging inmates. (4)
Document use
  • Read signs indicating parts of the building which are off limits to inmates. (1)
  • Read lists of inmates and their assigned living space and employment areas. (1)
  • Read lists indicating release dates, sentencing dates and numbers that identify case workers. (1)
  • Read program and activity schedules in table format. (2)
  • Read shift schedules and time sheets. (2)
  • Read transfer application forms and medical forms. (2)
  • Read staff appraisals. (2)
  • May use X-ray scanning machines at visitor entrances. (2)
  • Read blueprints of the institution's layout to facilitate surveillance duty. (3)
  • Read assembly drawings of weapons, firearm mechanisms and protective gear. (3)
  • Read schematics of the institution's alarm systems for use by the emergency response team. (3)
  • Complete statement forms to record the details of incidents. (3)
  • Write discharge memos on standardized forms. (1)
  • Write in logbooks to record and inform other officers of daily occurrences and activities of inmates. (2)
  • Complete incident reports. (2)
  • May write letters and memos to superintendents about security risks. (2)
  • May write letters to parole boards about inmates' behaviour. (3)
  • Prepare correctional plans for each inmate under their responsibility. (3)
  • Write case histories, assessments and investigation reports on residents when they are admitted or leave the facility, which may involve integrating information from interviews. (4)
NumeracyMoney Math
  • Calculate pay for inmates, complete pay sheets for money to be put into their accounts, and make change for inmates to use telephones. (1)
  • Count money coming from inmates on unescorted temporary absence, putting it in cash boxes and giving receipts. (1)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • May manage a budget relating to inmate recreation, field trips, education, entertainment and equipment. (3)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • Measure out amounts of medication that inmates require, according to what is written in their files. (1)
  • Measure chemicals such as mace. (1)
Data Analysis Math
  • May compare inmate counts at specified intervals and determine reasons for any changes. (1)
Numerical Estimation
  • Estimate staffing requirements, taking into account how many inmates there are. (2)
  • May estimate the cost of loaning an officer to another institution when the exact time frame of the loan is not known. (3)
Oral communication
  • Listen to co-workers and supervisors who are conducting perimeter duty using two-way radios. (1)
  • Discuss problems, concerns and ways of handling situations with other correctional service officers. (2)
  • Interact with supervisors and directors of the facility to provide and receive information about policies and co-ordinate work among officers. (2)
  • Interact with visitors to the facility, providing information and advising them regarding what items can be brought into the institution. (2)
  • Interact with volunteers, counsellors, teachers and ministers about inmate progress. (2)
  • Interact with service providers, such as women's shelters and alcohol rehabilitation centres. (2)
  • Interact with inmates, including providing and asking for information, persuading inmates to enter programs and negotiating and resolving conflicts. (3)
ThinkingProblem Solving
  • May face verbal abuse from inmates. Such conflicts may be resolved by talking with inmates or placing individuals in isolation. (2)
  • May be called upon to resolve a dispute between inmates and other correctional service staff. They try to solve conflicts between staff members and inmates by talking to each of them separately and making a decision based on the facts of the dispute. (2)
  • May hear rumours that some inmates are planning an attack on other inmates. They may simply observe the situation if there is no evidence to support the rumours, or take pre-emptive steps such as moving certain inmates to different beds or work assignments. (3)
  • May encounter an escape attempt. They respond to escape attempts quickly and firmly, following established procedures. (3)
  • Deal with inmates who are becoming increasingly distressed, aggressive or emotional. They examine factors which may have triggered the situation and seek other staff opinions. The inmate may be moved to another facility or referred to a nurse or psychiatrist. (3)
Decision Making
  • Respond to inmate requests for privileges, based on set procedures and past experience. (1)
  • Decide which staff member will do which job when acting as a shift leader. They make their assessment based on who is best suited for the job, judging from past experience. (2)
  • Decide whether to search a cell if they suspect that an inmate is planning something dangerous or against the rules. (2)
  • Decide whether to respond positively to inmates' requests to make phone calls, receive visits or take showers after the approved shower time has passed. They base decisions on the behaviour of inmates, security issues and rules in operations manuals. (2)
  • Decide, in consultation with infirmary staff, if inmates are too ill to remain at the institute's infirmary and should be sent to hospital for treatment. (2)
  • Decide whether to move inmates to different cells to break up cliques. (2)
  • Decide whether to support an inmate's request for temporary leave, early parole or participation in the bracelet program. They make their decision after a thorough review of an inmate's record and daily behaviour and after contacting others with whom the inmate has interacted. (3)
Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking information was not collected for this profile.

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Shift leaders or directors determine correctional service officers' work tasks and priorities. Correctional officers who have supervisory roles may themselves supervise thirty or more other correctional officers. There may be frequent interruptions during a work shift to respond to inmate discipline problems. Their days are highly structured, as officers are expected to circulate and provide basic necessities to inmates within structured blocks of time. Workers may have areas of specialization such as counselling or working with inmates in group settings. In emergency situations, teamwork comes to the forefront, with carefully sequenced and planned responses. Since there is a high degree of paperwork associated with the job of correctional service officer, incumbents must plan their workdays to find time for the various forms and reports required.

Significant Use of Memory
  • Remember codes, keys, passwords and schedules.
  • Remember the sequence of procedures for escorting prisoners or for closing the cell block for the night. The failure to follow procedures in the right order may lead to a breach of security and danger to correctional staff.
  • Remember protocols for dealing with suicide attempts.
  • Remember changes in regulations, policies and procedures.
Finding Information
  • Refer to lists of phone numbers of outside resources, such as women's health clinics. (1)
  • Request information from other officers, psychologists and supervisors. (2)
  • Consult correctional service 'rules and regulations' manuals to find answers to questions posed by inmates. (2)
  • Read inmate files to find details of crimes and sentences so that appropriate resources may be provided. (3)
Digital technology
  • Use other computer applications. For example, they operate computer-controlled doors and gates. (1)
  • They type reports and appraisals. (2)
  • They may prepare a presentation. (2)
  • They refer to an inmate database to find information on crimes, sentences and medical conditions of inmates. (2)
  • They may prepare information relating to the recreation and equipment budget. (2)
  • They may enter information on the money received from inmates returning from unescorted temporary absences. (2)
  • They may use e-mail to communicate with other institutions. (2)
Additional informationOther Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Correctional service officers work alone when on perimeter duty and at observation posts. They work independently at some tasks, such as when writing reports. They work with partners on some tasks, such as doing head counts at night. Correctional service officers work as part of a team with other correction service officers, volunteers and office staff. They keep in close communication with one another on every shift, often via two-way radio.

Continuous Learning

Correctional service officers learn on the job and through courses. For example, correctional service officers take courses relating to drugs and violence, sex offences, risk assessment and anger management. They may also take courses on computers and effective supervision. Courses in conflict resolution and psychology may also be taken by correctional service officers, as well as courses in labour relations and first aid.

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