Prison Instructor

The Job and What's Involved

Two of the main aims of prison are rehabilitation and helping to prepare prisoners for the adjustment to life after they are released. Education and training form an important part of this process, whether it is working on improving existing skills of prisoners or developing new ones. Prison instructors have a major role in ensuring that prisoners return to society better equipped to face the challenges they are likely to encounter.

A major objective is to increase their chances of finding work, which in turn helps to reduce the likelihood of re-offending on release. Prisoners, some with few qualifications, are encouraged to use their time in prison to work towards qualifications, such as NVQ's.

Prison instructors in England and Wales may be:

Prison officer instructors - uniformed prison officers who, in addition to their usual duties, teach and train prisoners to gain skills and qualifications in a specialist area.

Civilian instructional officers - officers with specific skills, such as engineering, woodwork and horticulture employed to run work programmes and train prisoners.

The Prison Service encourages study towards vocational qualifications in subjects such as printing, construction, engineering, bricklaying, painting and decorating, horticulture, catering, tailoring, woodwork and ICT. Basic numeracy and literacy are also taught, alongside more advanced courses in maths and English.

The responsibilities of a prison instructor may include:

  • Assessing the skills or training requirements of individual prisoners.
  • Providing instruction to prisoners in groups or on an individual basis.
  • Ensuring prisoners are supervised at all times.
  • Ensuring tools and materials that could be a security risk are accounted for.
  • Following and applying health and safety procedures.
  • Carrying and using radio equipment, where required.
  • Keeping records on prisoners' progress.
  • Preparing course material.
  • Liaising with colleagues and outside organisations, including examining bodies.

In addition, prison officer instructors may undertake some of the operational duties performed by prison officers, such as carrying out searches and security checks, escorting prisoners around the prison and administering appropriate physical control and restraint.

Civilian instructional officers usually work standard office hours from Monday to Friday. Part-time work and job share is available. Prison officer instructors may work weekends or late and early shifts.

Instructors employed by the Prison Service in England and Wales are considered a mobile grade. This means that although they are based at one centre, they may be required to work at any prison throughout England and Wales.

The working environment varies depending on the skills being taught. Instructors may work indoors, eg in small factories or workshops, where conditions may be noisy and dusty. Some working outside teaching bricklaying or horticulture will have to contend with all weathers, and conditions may be muddy, cold and wet. Instructors teaching numeracy and literacy work indoors, often in a light and airy classroom.

Some work involves sitting at a desk or bench, while other work may require bending, lifting or a lot of walking.

Safety equipment, including overalls, gloves and hard hats may be required for some work.

New prison officer instructors earn around £18,135 a year.
Experienced prison officer instructors may earn up to £28,930 and Senior prison instructors may earn £31,169, while principal instructors may earn up to £33,537.

Staff who work in some prisons receive additional locality pay that ranges from £250 to £4,250 a year.

Some civilian instructors are self-employed, earning an hourly rate.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Prison instructors work in adult prisons for people over 21 years old and in young offender institutions for people between 15 and 21 years old. There are 143 prisons in England and Wales, with men and women being held in separate prisons.

Most prisons in England and Wales are run by Her Majesty's Prison Service (HMPS). Eleven others are run by private companies under contract to the Ministry of Justice.

Many prison instructors are also prison officers, but there are around 1,000 civilian instructional officers teaching in prisons in England and Wales. That number is likely to increase. Some colleges and private companies, on a contract with prison services, employ instructors to provide training in prisons.

In England and Wales, recruitment is dealt with by individual prisons or by a group of establishments in one area. Vacancies may be advertised local newspapers, trade publications relating to specific skills and Jobcentre Plus offices. The Prison Service website also lists vacancies. Private companies that run prisons manage their own recruitment - see the HMPS website for contact details.

Education and Training

Prison officer instructors must meet the usual Prison Service entry requirements. See the Prison Officer article for details.

Civilian instructional officers usually need:

  • A recognised qualification and recent occupational competence in their vocational field, such as a City & Guilds (C&G) Advanced Certificate or an NVQ, which is at least one level higher than they are likely to teach.
  • A health and safety qualification.
  • Teaching, instructing or supervisory experience in an adult education environment.

Knowledge of NVQs and how to assess qualifications may be required for some positions. If conducting assessments on prisoners, NVQ assessors need an A1 and/or A2 assessment qualification.

As experience is essential in a prison instructors' role, applicants with relevant qualifications and life experience are welcomed. Many instructors come from a background in industry, such as construction, and use this experience to train prisoners.

A background and security check may be carried out, as well as aCriminal Records Bureau (CRB)check.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training for civilian instructional officers includes a one-week induction course at the prison establishment where they will work. This is followed by a four-week course led by experienced training instructors.

On-the-job training is widely available. The Prison Service actively encourages all instructors to gain additional skills and qualifications. These include:

- NVQ in learning and development
- Further education teaching qualifications

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Prison instructors should:

  • Be knowledgeable about the subject they teach.
  • Be able to motivate and encourage others.
  • Be able to teach their subject in an interesting way.
  • Be able to gain the trust of prisoners.
  • Be fair and impartial.
  • Encourage prisoners to take pride and responsibility for their achievements.
  • Be patient.
  • Have a positive attitude and a sense of humour.
  • Be able to stay calm under pressure.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Be able to diffuse a situation quickly and effectively.
  • Have excellent organisational and communication skills.
  • Remain approachable without getting emotionally involved.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, civilian instructional officers may be promoted internally to a manager grade. Promotion is based on individual merit. Some may move into a head office role or become training managers. Others may transfer to other types of institution, such as care homes or hospitals, to teach basic skills.

For prison officer instructors with experience, promotion to senior officer and then principal officer may be possible. Promotion is based on individual merit, and officers are required to pass a Job Simulation Assessment Centre (JSAC) process in order to become a senior officer. Promotion to principal officer is by interview.

Principal officers may choose to go on to train as a prison governor once they have passed a further JSAC.

Get Further Information

Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499

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