Prison Officer

The Job and What's Involved

The main responsibility of prison officers is to keep securely in prison people who have been sentenced by the courts. While there, prison officers try to build positive relationships with prisoners to help them lead law-abiding lives after they are released and to support them through rehabilitation programme's.

Prisons have different levels of security, ranging from open conditions to high security. In an open prison, prisoners may leave the prison on licence for short periods, either to go to work or to visit their families. The work of a prison officer varies according to the type of prison, the age and gender of prisoners, and the level of security required.

The job usually involves:

  • Supervising the everyday activities of prisoners, such as meals, showers or exercise.
  • Settling in new prisoners when they arrive.
  • Carrying out searches and security checks.
  • Escorting prisoners from one part of the prison to another.
  • Administering correct physical control and restraint procedures when required.
  • Upholding respect for prisoners and their property, rights and dignity.
  • Looking out for and helping prisoners who may try to harm themselves and others.
  • Writing accurate reports when incidents occur.
  • Liaising closely with colleagues and management staff.

In addition to working with prisoners, prison officers make sure visitors understand and follow the security procedures. The job also involves some administration, completing forms and writing reports.

Each prisoner officer will be involved in Offender Management (OM). This is a set of key principles to assist prisoners with offending behaviour by helping them to recognise and resolve their problems.

Prison officers rotate roles in prison and are likely to spend some time covering reception and working on one of the wings where prisoners are housed. These duties may change from time to time to give them experience of all aspects of work in a prison. Some experienced prison officers may apply for specialist roles, such as physical education instructor or dog handler.

Senior officers supervise and support junior staff through their training and may be responsible for individual prison sections.

Prison officers work a variety of shifts, including nights, weekends and some long days. Some officers work a set number of hours each week, while others work a rolling shift pattern. Job share and part-time work is available.

Most work is indoors. The working environment varies considerably, from old buildings to refurbished or modern complexes. Some outdoor work is required, such as patrolling the prison grounds or supervising exercise and recreation. Officers may be outdoors in all weather conditions.

All prison officers are provided with a uniform.

Occasional travel to another prison, or to escort prisoners to court appearances or for hospital visits may be required. However, these tasks are increasingly being done by private security organisations.

New prison officers earn at least £18,135 a year. Experienced prison officers may earn up to £28,930. Senior prison officers may earn £31,169, while principal officers 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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 25,000 prison officers working in 149 prisons in England and Wales. Most are adult prisons for people over 21 years old, while others are young offenders' institutions for people aged 15 to 21. Men and women are held in separate prisons. Prisons are located in rural and urban areas, some in very remote areas.

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 (MOJ).

In England and Wales, recruitment is dealt with by individual prisons or by a group of establishments in one area. Advertisements are placed in the local press 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

No specific educational requirements are required for entry, but some GCSE's can be helpful for passing the entrance tests. The Diploma in society, health and development or in public services may be relevant for this area of work.

Applicants must be one of the following:

  • A UK National
  • A Commonwealth citizen
  • A British Protected person
  • A national of the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • A non-EEA national who is a family member of an EEA national from another member state (non-UK) who has moved to the UK for an approved purpose.

Other entry requirements include:

  • Being between 18 and 62 years old.
  • Passing an entrance test.
  • Passing a sight test, wearing lenses or glasses if required.
  • Having good health and physical fitness.
  • Normally at least three years' UK residency.
  • Not being an undischarged bankrupt, or having links to any groups or organisations the Prison Service regards as racist.
  • A Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

Applications from people with relevant experience are welcomed. This may include people from the armed forces, police or security industry. Skills or experience in working with or managing people are useful.

Applicants who meet the entry requirements are invited to attend an assessment day. They undertake language and numeracy tests, role play simulations, a health assessment and a fitness test.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Initial prison officer training takes eight weeks and includes time spent in a prison and at a residential training centre. The first year of service is a probationary period, during which new recruits are tutored and monitored by experienced staff. Training continues throughout the probationary year, and new officers are expected to complete NVQ Level 3 in custodial care.

Training covers all aspects of the work, including:

- Security and searching
- Public protection
- Interviewing
- Diversity
- Control and restraint (managing aggression)
- Health and safety
- Writing reports
- Prison rules and regulations
- Working as a team

The Prison Service offers training throughout the duration of employment, including specialist training in areas such as equality and diversity. Prison officers are also expected to take part in training relating to antisocial behaviour, suicide prevention and anti-bullying programme's.

Where possible, applicants are placed in a local prison during training, although it may be necessary to travel or move with the job.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A prison officer should:

  • Have excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected and able to deal with situations quickly and effectively.
  • Be compassionate and impartial, tactful but firm.
  • Be able to remain calm under pressure.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Build good relationships with prisoners, gaining their trust and confidence.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.
  • Have respect for prisoners and their property, rights and dignity.
  • Be in good health and physically fit.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, promotion to senior officer and then principal officer may be possible. Promotion is based on individual merit and officers have to pass a Job Simulation Assessment Centre (JSAC) process in order to become a senior officer.

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

Graduates can progress faster to higher positions by taking part in the Intensive Development Scheme. Further details are available on HM Prison Service website.

Get Further Information

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

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