How to Become a Prison Warden

Three Parts:Meeting the RequirementsGaining the ExperienceSucceeding in Your Career

A prison warden is an administrative official at a prison. This means that a warden has a complicated job that includes allocating public funds, maintaining the safety of the public, and making sure the prisoners in the system are given the programs and skills they need to be law-abiding citizens when their sentences are over. Though prison wardens have a high average salary of $58,570 per year in the US, and start at over £20k in the UK[1], the position is not for everyone. If you want to know how to become a prison warden, just follow these steps.

Part 1
Meeting the Requirements

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    Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. This is the bare minimum requirement you need for becoming a prison warden. You'll need to earn a high school diploma or a GED to move on to earn a bachelor's degree, which can give you some preparation you need to be a prison warden. Getting a high school diploma will also ensure that you have literacy skills and the basic communication skills that are necessary for the position of prison warden.[2]
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    Earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Though there isn't any one given major that you need to get with your bachelor's degree that would put you straight on the path to be a prison warden, it can help to get a major in a relevant field such as criminology, administration of justice, or social work. However, if you check out the biographies of wardens at the Tennessee Department of Corrections, you'll see that they studied a variety of fields that include English, science, and business.[3][4]
    • Getting a bachelor's degree in a relevant field will also help you understand the work of a correctional officer, which can include a prison officer, prison jailer, and prison warden. Having a better sense of what this position entails, will help you see if this is a career path you truly want to pursue.
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    Have a clean background. You'll need to pass a background check to start working at a correctional facility or in a law enforcement role at any level, so make sure there are no felonies or murky territory in your past. Since you'll be working to help inmates become law-abiding citizens, you'll have to be a law-abiding citizen yourself. If you've had a felony, a misdemeanor in the past five years, or even a charge that involved drugs or violence, you will be disqualified from the position in most cases.[5]
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    Be drug-free. You'll most likely have to submit to a drug test if you're a finalist in the application process for being a prison warden. It is understood that you should be clean.[6]
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    Have the qualities of a prison warden. If you want to be a prison warden, then you need to possess or work to posses the skills that will be most crucial to the success of your career. Here are a few of the most important qualities you'll need to really flourish in the position:[7]
    • Money management skills. One of your main jobs will be to use public funds to house, feed, and clothe prisoners adequately, as well as to provide crucial services such as education and health care to the prisoners. You'll need to know how to manage money to make sure you can strike the best balance.
    • Critical thinking skills. Your prison will be filled with problems, and it will often take creativity and hard thinking to find a way to solve it.
    • Interpersonal skills. You'll need to know how to not only interact and communicate with the inmates, but you'll also need to know how to speak to your staff to communicate your needs.
    • Physical strength. Though you'll be doing much of your work from being a desk, you will also be interacting with prisoners, and you should stay strong in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
    • Writing skills. You will need to have strong writing skills to work with other administrators in the federal system to communicate the needs of your prison effectively.
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    Gain at least 15-30 years of experience. That's right. You would graduate with your bachelor's degree and move straight up to role of prison warden. In case it isn't clear, the position of prison warden is a highly-coveted and high-paying position that requires many years of relevant experience. Prison warden is often the end of the career path of a person who has been working in the correctional officer field. However, there is no one set path to getting the experience you need to be a warden. Here are some most common ways to do it:[8]
    • Start working as a correctional officer and work your way into being a lower-level administrator at the prison.
    • Work in a position of management or administration in another relevant, or somewhat relevant field.
    • Work in business management or other fields that require strong money management skills.
    • Work in increasingly challenging roles as a supervisor. This will give you the experience you need to manage staff and inmates.
    • Work as a police officer or an investigator. This will give you a different perspective into the field of criminal justice.

Part 2
Gaining the Experience

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    Get some hands-on experience. This is a bit vague, but what you need to do is gain some experience working with people, and showing that you're brave, determined, and conscious of the needs of others. This can mean training to be a police officer and working in that field for a few years, gaining some experience in the military (if this was already a path you have completed or considered), or even putting in some time to be a social worker.
    • There is no one key way to get "hands on" experience. However, you will need something to point to when you apply to be a prison warden so you can say that you understand human psychology, the needs of the prisoners, and so on.
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    Enter the correctional officer field. You can do this in several ways, but you'll have to work your way up from the bottom. You can begin as a probation officer, correctional officer, or even as a prison guard. Working as a correctional officer will help you understand the dynamics of prison life, and will give you a better sense of the needs of both the staff at the facility as well as the prisoners. When you become a prison warden, you can recall the time you spend working in a more hands-on environment with the prisoners, and this will give you a better sense of what you really need.[9]
    • To enter this field, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will require you to have not only a bachelor's degree, but also 3 years of full-time experience providing counseling, assistance, or supervision to individuals or a combination of the two.
    • Before you can become a correctional officer, you will need at least 200 hours of training, as well as to meet the qualifications for the position you seek.
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    Work your way up to a management-level position. If you want to be a prison warden, then all of your hard work in the field of law enforcement or corrections has to lead you to move up in the ranks. This can mean gaining an administrative position in the prison, working as a supervisor, or doing whatever you can to work your way up to a position where you manage people and gain interpersonal and communication skills.
    • When you're a prison warden, dozens or even hundreds of people may be under your watch, so you have to prove that you have what it takes to have this level of authority.
    • The important thing is that you demonstrate your leadership skills.
    • You can even work in a management-level position in the business field. Though having criminal justice experience in some form is important, so is being business savvy.
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    Further your education. Though this isn't a mandatory step for all future prison wardens, some prison warden positions require you to have a Master's in Criminal Justice before you even apply for the position. This degree can also help you move up in the ranks in your current position in law enforcement or in a relevant field. If you apply to the right program, you may be able to pursue a Master's in Criminal Justice at night or on a flexible schedule so you can continue to thrive in your career at the same time.
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    Apply to a position as a prison warden. Your best chance of applying for the position of prison warden is to come from the ranks of corrections officers, preferably in the region or location where you would like to become a warden. However, keep in mind that you can also be appointed to be a prison warden. In this case, the emphasis on your qualifications will be on all the administrative skills that you gained.[10]
    • A panel interview may be a part of the hiring process, so be prepared to articulate your qualifications for the position.
    • Most prisoners have several wardens that report to the chief warden. You may apply to one of these positions first, before working your way up to the position of chief warden.

Part 3
Succeeding in Your Career

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    Develop a strong relationship with your staff. Your staff will know the ins and outs of the prison and will need to keep you appraised of every little thing that is going on every day that you come in. To be a capable prison warden, you'll need to develop strong relationships with your staff so they can come to you and tell you what happened the night after or the morning before your last shift.[11]
    • Since the prison is patrolled 24 hours a day, you'll have to meet with several rotations of your staff to know exactly what is going on.
    • You shouldn't be best friends with the staff, but you should command their respect so they give you the information you need.
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    Have a respectful relationship with the inmates. You should not be overly-friendly with the inmates, but you shouldn't be absolutely tyrannical, either. Like the staff, the inmates have to trust you so they can come to you with major concerns that could affect the way you run the prison. Although the inmates will have more contact with the prison guards, they should meet with you regularly to discuss their concerns.[12]
    • You'll also meet with prisoners who had major problems or got involved in altercations. You will need to enforce their punishment while making them see the errors of their ways.
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    Provide for the needs of the inmates by allocating public funds correctly. You'll have to properly allocate the public funds that you are given to run the prison, which will often not feel adequate enough to cover everything they need. You'll have to prioritize and make decisions about what the inmates really need, and what they can do without; for example, you might have to make a choice between raising the quality of the food and giving the prisoners more educational options. Here are some things you will have to oversee:[13]
    • The quality of the inmate's food and clothing
    • Mental stimulation for the inmates, from extra-curricular activities to upkeeping the prison library
    • Health care for the prisoners
    • Physical stimulation for the inmates, such as the maintenance of an outdoor track or exercise equipment
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    Handle the death row inmates with grace. If you're governing a jail with a death row area, then you will play a key role in carrying out the rules of the sentence, such as the visit from the Chaplin, the last meal, and the orchestration of the lethal injection or whatever method of death is used by your prison.[14]
    • These duties will be difficult, especially if you have known the inmate for a while, but you will have to stay calm and mature as you carry out these difficult tasks.
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    Deal with the press. If your prison is suffering from an issue the press has noticed, then you will often be the person who is chosen to speak on behalf of the prison. You will have to answer the questions of the press with care, and make sure the prison looks professional and respectable at all times. Don't lose your cool or offer up information that you may regret saying later.[15]
    • You will be acting as a representative of your institution, so you will have to conduct yourself as respectably as possible.
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    Influence the policies of the prison. You will also work with corrections supervisors to help them adopt various policies and procedures that can help the prison run more smoothly. This is when you will wear your administrative hat. The rules you will put into action will include intake and classification, education and job training, recreational programs as well as the disciplinary measures that are taken.
    • You will have to be knowledgeable not only in what makes a prison run in general, but about which policies are best for your prison and your population of inmates.
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    Maintain a safe operation at all times. At the end of the day, one of your most important concerns is to keep the prisoners safe in the prison as well as to keep the public safe from the prisoners. You will have to enforce the rules and regulations of the prison, including laws about incarceration and employee contact, and to keep a well-ordered record of the infractions of the inmates as well as the staff.
    • One of your jobs will be to make sure the staff is not taking advantage of the prisoners.
    • You will also be in charge of the response during a crisis, such as a riot, a major fight, a suicide, or a natural disaster.


  • Prison wardens come from diverse backgrounds. Check out the biographies of the prison wardens in your area to have a sense of their educational backgrounds and experience.


  • You must be physically strong to be a prison warden. The position is rewarding, but it can also be dangerous when it comes to dealing with inmates.

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