What does a Prison Warden do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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A prison warden supervises the operations of a prison. Prison wardens have a complex job, because they are responsible for stewarding public funds, securing the safety of the public, and handling a complex institution which can house thousands of people, all of whom have needs which must be met. Work in this field can be very demanding and grueling, in addition to being potentially dangerous.

Prison wardens are trained both as correctional officers and as administrators. Some come from a background in corrections, starting out as officers and working their way into the administration of the prison. Others approach the position from the position of administration and management. The approaches often depend on how prison wardens are hired. In regions where they are appointed, they tend to have more administrative skills, while in regions where they apply for the job, they often come from the ranks of corrections officers.

Because prisons are paid for with public funds, one of a prison warden's major jobs is using these funds appropriately and responsibly to run the prison. Prison wardens need to house, feed, and clothe prisoners, and they are also expected to provide services like health care, access to education, psychiatric care, and opportunities to engage in rehabilitation and reentry programs.


Unlike other populations which need to be cared for, prisoners are also dangerous, which makes a prison warden's job significantly harder. Wardens need to think about how the spaces in a prison should be allocated, and they have to be able to respond to emerging issues like gang violence, or newly entering prisoners with a controversial background which could create a safety issue. They may also administer programs like work crews of prisoners, in which prisoners perform work at the prison or in the local community, and these programs can be challenging for a prison warden to run safely and effectively.

A prison warden also has to handle the personnel of the prison, including guards, janitors, cooks, and so forth, hiring people when appropriate and dealing out discipline as needed. The security issues in a prison add a level of complexity to personnel management in a prison which is not seen in other environments.

While the warden of a prison has historically been depicted as a grim person with cold, hard justice in mind, prison wardens in fact need to be very flexible, and they are often highly educated and idealistic. Running a prison can be like running a business, but it is also fraught with some very serious ethical, moral, and legal issues which require a sharp mind at the helm to ensure that the facility is run properly.


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Should prison wardens be elected officials?

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