What Type of Degree Do I Need If I Want to Work In a Prison?

A prison degree can be one of two things: Proof that you’ve geared your education towards working in the prison system, or a diploma that prisoners earn behind bars. Hopefully, you’ll only ever have to worry about the first one, but what college major should you pursue to make sure you end up with your dream job? Depending on your interests, you can actually choose between several different courses of study, all of which will lead to a steady career in the penal system.


Prisons provide comprehensive medical care to patients, which means that nurses are always in demand. In fact, the federal government offers full scholarships to nursing students who commit to working within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. You can also work at local jails or state prisons. As a prison nurse, you’ll experience a wide swath of health conditions, including mental illnesses, long-term issues like diabetes and trauma cases from inmate violence. Prison nurses experience danger and excitement every day, but the rewards are worth it. You’ll work with a diverse group of patients and receive a competitive salary and benefits package.

Social Work

In some ways, a bachelor’s or master’s in social work is the ultimate prison degree. You can work in case management, discharge, drug rehabilitation or inmate counseling. You might find yourself teaching sex offenders to control their urges, helping murderers keep a positive outlook during a life sentence or managing a detox program. Keep in mind that some states, like Nebraska are facing a serious shortage in social work services for prisoners. Depending on where you live, you may have trouble finding a rehabilitation-focused position, but prisons will always need social workers.

Criminal Justice

If you want to be a warden or correctional officer, you’re almost required to have a background in criminal justice. This course of study dives into the social and mental conditions that lead to crime, helping you get inside the head of prisoners. You’ll learn about the poor impulse control that most prisoners have and how you can safely manage this trait. Plus, many academic programs let you concentrate on prison studies, meaning your degree will be tailored to your career. You might even find yourself interning in a jail or taking a class alongside prisoners.

Exercise Science or Physiology

To be a successful prison guard, you need to be smart and strong. Fitness-related majors aren’t the traditional prison degree, but you can take advantage of that. By studying exercise science, you will be the go-to person for guards looking to buff up. You can make yourself stand out against the sea of applicants with criminal justice degrees, but only if you like taking risks and are willing to put in the hours at the gym.

Although some positions, such as prison nurse or counselor, require a specific degree, many prison jobs do not. As a correctional officer or warden, you can study any field. For example, an anthropology degree could feature several classes on prisons. An English degree could be used to help you write high-quality reports. The four degrees in this article are great starting points, but you can turn almost any field of study into a prison degree.

For more information, take a look at “10 Most Brutal Prisons in the World