Prison officers are responsible for the security, supervision, training and rehabilitation of people sent to prison by the courts
Your primary responsibilities as a prison officer are your custodial duties, which involve the supervision and control of the prisoners and ensuring that they are in a safe and secure environment. You'll lock and unlock their doors, supervise movements around the prison, carry out security checks and searches and keep a check of prisoner numbers and locations.
You must also establish and maintain positive working relationships with the prisoners, balancing authority with a large amount of understanding and compassion, in order to effect rehabilitation and have a positive impact on prisoner welfare. This includes motivating prisoners to do what is best for themselves and others around them.
The nature of the role demands the ability to think on your feet, make quick decisions and deal effectively with unexpected situations.
As a prison officer, you'll need to:
- supervise, manage and control prisoners lawfully, safely and securely
- act as first prisoner contact on entrance to the prison
- keep an account of those in your charge and maintain proper order
- perform security checks and search procedures on prisoners, staff and visitors
- supervise visits and carry out patrol duties
- escort prisoners on external visits, to hospital for example
- assist in prisoner reviews
- advise and counsel prisoners and make sure they have access to professional help if needed
- deal with incidents as the 'first on scene' and work as part of a team to resolve the issues
- employ authorised physical control and restraint procedures where appropriate
- take care of prisoners' property
- be aware of prisoners' rights and dignity and their personal responsibility
- provide appropriate care and support for vulnerable prisoners and those at risk of self-harm
- promote anti-bullying and suicide prevention policies
- take an active part in rehabilitation programmes, including workshops and supporting family relations
- develop relationships with other specialist staff, including health and social work professionals
- prepare relevant reports and documentation for managers/quality checking purposes
- maintain and update records and write prisoner reports
- prepare prisoners for release
- comply with national and local policies and legislation.
Some aspects of your work will vary according to the type of prison you're working in, its level of security and the age of the prisoners. For example, category A prisoners require closer supervision than category C.
Higher grade prison officers have extra responsibilities, such as supervising other officers or looking after an area or wing of the prison.
- When you start your first job as a prison officer you can expect to be paid between £30,000 and £40,000 a year. With London salaries being between £38,697 and £40,726.
- In the South and South East, you can earn £34,800 to £38,300.
- In Scotland, the starting salary for operations prison officer recruits is £24,705 rising to £28,491 over a three-year period.
Salaries may vary according to your working hours, the area of the country you work in and the individual prison, as well as whether you are employed by HMPPS or a private prison. Pension schemes may also vary in private prisons.
You'll also be entitled to a Civil Service pension and further benefits, which may include childcare vouchers, cycle to work scheme and travel loans.
Income data from Prison and Probation Jobs. Figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll be required to work regular unsocial hours, including nights, weekends and bank holidays. During your training period, you'll work 37hours per week.
After this, you can choose for your standard working hours to be either 39 or 41 hours per week.
Salary and working hours can vary between prisons, so check the terms and conditions before applying.
There are opportunities for part-time or job-share work. Flexible working may be available once you have successfully completed your probation period.
What to expect
- Most of the work is indoors, although patrolling and supervision duties involve spending time outside.
- Working as a prison officer is varied and fast-paced, with a range of duties from keeping prisoners safe, helping them learn new skills and dealing with difficult behaviour.
- The work can be challenging and requires a calm and flexible approach, as difficult, confrontational, and sometimes violent situations may arise.
- You'll be supported in your role by your team who understand the day-to-day challenges you may encounter.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK in places that have prisons, remand centres and young offenders' institutions.
- Prison officers are provided with a uniform.
You don't need specific qualifications to become a prison officer, as personal qualities and life experience are deemed more important than academic qualifications, and training is provided.
However, you do need to fulfil certain criteria and in England and Wales, with HMPPS, you must:
- be aged 18 or over
- have the right to work in the UK
- be reasonably fit
- have good eyesight and hearing.
If you're applying to a category A prison, you'll also need to have been a UK resident for at least three years.
The application process is in-depth and has various stages, including:
- a short online application to confirm your eligibility to live and work in the UK
- a medical and fitness assessment including a hearing and eyesight test
- two online tests, consisting of a scenario-based test (to check how you react to real-life situations) and a basic numeracy test
- a behaviour-based assessment that checks you have the right natural strengths to become a prison officer
- online assessment - in which during a half day of online assessments, carried out on a laptop with a webcam, it will be determined whether you have the right abilities, strengths and fitness for the role
- background checks.
Before taking up a position as a prison officer, you'll need to go through the vetting process, which can take a few months to complete.
You don't need any specific knowledge of the prison service to apply, but you will need at least a GCSE in maths and English at Level 4/C or above and the right to work in the UK.
The Prison and Probation Service in England and Wales offers a 12 month Level 3 Custody and Detention Professional Apprenticeship, if you want an enhanced programme of work-based learning.
Working alongside studying provides you with skills and knowledge that will stand you in good stead throughout your prison service career.
There is also an opportunity for graduates to work as a prison officer and gain leadership skills via the two-year accelerated leadership development programme Unlocked. The programme aims to produce future prison leaders equipped with the skills necessary to help reform the prison service and cut reoffending.
In Scotland, the recruitment process for the operations prison officer consists of four assessments - psychometric testing, application assessment, competency-based interview and fitness test. For full details on entry requirements, see the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). For more information on the role of prison officer in Northern Ireland, see the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS).
Contact individual providers for information on entry requirements and training for private prisons.
You will need to have:
- strong interpersonal skills, including assertiveness and self-motivation
- excellent communication and people skills, with the ability to get on with a range of people
- empathy and the ability to build trusting relationships
- cultural awareness
- personal integrity, high morals and resilience
- leadership potential and the ability to take responsibility
- teamworking skills and the ability to learn from others
- effective decision-making skills
- organisational skills
- the ability to remain calm under pressure
- self-confidence, assertiveness and emotional intelligence
- physical stamina
- knowledge of public safety and general security procedures
- knowledge of common law and custody procedures
- a commitment to quality and awareness of how prisons fit within the wider criminal justice system and the community in general.
Getting work experience prior to working in a prison can be useful and gaining some knowledge of the sector will also help you in your training and academic study.
You can find relevant opportunities through either paid or voluntary work in a range of settings, including:
- approved premises
- prison visiting services
- victim support services
- youth offending teams
- community payback teams
- outside of the community justice system.
The quality of the experience is more important than the quantity.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The main employers of prison officers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are:
- HMPPS - runs 105 of the 122 prisons in England and Wales
- Scottish Prison Service (SPS) - runs 15 Scottish prisons in total, 13 are publicly managed and two are run by private sector operators under contract to the SPS
- Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) - 12 prisons in total, 10 traditional closed prisons and two open prisons.
There are also a number of prisons in England, Wales and Scotland operating under private contract, and these are responsible for their own recruitment. Private prisons may also differ in other respects from the majority of prisons, but they're governed by the same HMPPS/SPS rules and regulations.
Prison officer opportunities also exist in remand centres, young offenders' institutions and open or resettlement prisons.
Look for vacancies at:
- Ministry of Justice
- Northern Ireland Civil Service Recruitment
- Prison and Probation Jobs
- Scottish Prison Service
Private prison providers, such as Sodexo Justice Services, Serco Custodial Services and G4S Justice Services, also advertise vacancies on their websites.
Prison officer jobs
Prison officer training begins with 12-weeks of training. Weeks one and two are spent at your assigned prison, familiarising yourself with the layout and work duties and later consolidating and applying your learning from the 10-week Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) course that you will have completed at one of the training sites across England and Wales.
The probation period for prison officers is one year in England, Scotland and Wales and your initial training continues throughout this time. To successfully complete your probationary period, you'll need to pass every part.
Graduates on the Unlocked two-year Leadership Development Programme begin training with a six-week residential course covering standard prison officer training. Trainees are allocated an experienced mentoring prison officer to help guide and support them throughout the programme. As part of the programme, you'll also complete a part-time Masters degree and will have the opportunity to write a policy paper.
Opportunities for training and development in private prisons vary depending on the company. Contact individual companies for details.
In Scotland, new officers enter the prison service as operations officers with responsibility for the security and running of the prison and must pass the SVQ in Custodial Care at SCQF Level 7 during their first two years.
Prison officers have access to a range of training and development activities throughout their careers in areas such as equality and diversity, dealing with challenging behaviours, suicide prevention and anti-bullying programmes, as well as opportunities to access promotion programmes.
Posts involving greater responsibility and staff management form the obvious promotion pathway. Prison officers start at Band 3 and can progress to supervisory positions at Band 4 and management positions at Band 5 through further optional training. This also allows you to specialise in various areas such as dog handling and suicide prevention.
Other opportunities include work at training or service headquarters, or work within specialist projects in the service, such as rehabilitative work with specific groups of prisoners or their families.
Officers with ability are encouraged to apply for promotion as soon as they feel ready. This involves going through a series of selection procedures designed to assess skills and the ability to operate at the next level.
Opportunities may arise for secondments to other establishments and for appointments at HM Prison Service London headquarters and area offices throughout England and Wales.
You can progress through managerial posts in order to build up further experience of different prison functions, for example, security, performance management, different categories of prison or the different prison populations, e.g., mothers and babies, vulnerable prisoners or young offenders. Following this, you can apply for senior manager accreditation and then possibly go on to govern your own prison. Prison governors have overall responsibility for the management of a team that includes prison officers, duty governors and other staff.
Alternatively, you can transfer to a senior management position within HMPPS or move to a role outside of the prison service. Opportunities for senior managers include policy roles within the Civil Service or the Ministry of Justice, working with third sector providers or in ministers' private offices.
In Scotland, promotion for officers is available at residential officer, officer instructor/vocational training officer, first-line managerial and senior managerial levels. Having completed the probationary period of one year, you'll be able to apply for promotion and will be assessed on individual merit and ability.