While prison and probation jobs can be mentally and physically challenging, they can also be incredibly rewarding - as you'll get to play a key role in improving the lives of others
Whether you favour a uniformed role as a prison officer or prefer to focus on offender rehabilitation as a prison instructor or probation officer, there are several routes into this area of work, with plenty of scope for career development.
Prison officer jobs
As a uniformed prison officer working on the frontline in prisons, you'll be responsible for maintaining security and supervising prisoners on a day-to-day basis.
You'll need to be able to display authority and enforce discipline at the same time as developing positive working relationships with prisoners. You may also play a role in training prisoners so that they have useful skills when they're released.
Patrolling the prison, escorting prisoners, dealing with incidents, protecting vulnerable prisoners and maintaining prisoner records are all in a day's work.
Your employer is likely to be Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), an agency of the Ministry of Justice. However, some prisons are privately run by companies such as G4S and Serco - these prisons recruit officers independently.
For a full rundown of the duties, salary range, opportunities for career development and qualifications required to launch your career as a prison officer in all parts of the UK, see the prison officer job profile.
To search for vacancies in England and Wales, see the prison officer page at Prison and probation jobs, the official recruitment website of HMPPS. The application process consists of an online test, prison tour, Recruitment Assessment Day (including physical fitness test) and vetting.
Unlocked graduate programme
If you have or are expecting a 2:1 degree in any subject, you may want to consider the Unlocked graduate programme. It's an intensive two-year leadership scheme that puts you on the frontline as a prison officer in London or the South East of England, with a starting salary of up to £30,000 per year, depending on location.
After completing the six-week residential training programme, your role will be to work with prisoners to find ways to help them break the cycle of reoffending - so you'll have real responsibility from the start, as well as being mentored by an experienced prison officer.
At the same time, you'll be fully funded in studying part-time over two years for the MSc in Applied Custodial Leadership from Leeds Trinity University. This will give you the knowledge and expertise to change attitudes and perceptions, while encouraging new approaches to prison reform. Once the programme is over, you'll have gained the leadership skills to work in a variety of job sectors or to stay in the prison service if you choose.
Find out more about Unlocked.
Become a prison governor
Prison governors are senior leaders with overall responsibility for their prison. Their remit typically includes making inspections, maintaining discipline and security, managing prison staff, ensuring prisoners' welfare is looked after, handling budgets and meeting government targets. These tasks vary depending on the type and size of the prison.
If you aspire to a leadership position in the prison service, the most common entry route is to get several years' experience as a prison officer (often a decade or more) and progress from there.
You'll need to be confident, assertive, and a strong team player to succeed. Report writing and speaking to large groups of people - both staff and prisoners - are central to the role, so excellent written and verbal communication skills are essential.
According to the National Careers Service, salaries for prison governors range from £47,500 to £75,500 per year, depending on experience.
Prison instructor roles
You can combine interests in teaching and offender rehabilitation by becoming a prison instructor. You'll work with prisoners in the classroom or workshop to help them develop vocational skills that they can use to find employment when they're released.
Some instructors are uniformed prison officers who take on additional responsibility alongside their regular duties, while others are civilians employed in a full-time training role.
Among your tasks will be assessing the learning needs of prisoners, planning and running training sessions, supervising prisoners, and maintaining health and safety standards.
You'll usually need at least a Level 3 teaching qualification, as well as the same standard in your specialist subject area, plus some relevant work experience. Salaries range from £18,000 to £29,000, according to the National Careers Service.
Probation officer careers
Working with offenders before, during and after a prison sentence or community order, as a probation officer you'll help rehabilitate lawbreakers and reduce their risk of reoffending.
You'll liaise closely with colleagues throughout the criminal justice system - for example, in the police, courts and prison service - as well as with victims of crime.
To explore the role further, read about life as a probation officer.
Find out in detail about the responsibilities, salary range and qualifications required for this career by visiting the probation officer job profile.
To learn whether you're eligible and to apply for jobs in England and Wales with the National Probation Service, part of HMPPS, see Train to be a probation officer.
Scotland and Northern Ireland operate their own criminal justice systems, which have their own structures and deliver probation services differently. To find opportunities in these countries, visit:
Find out more
- Search for graduate jobs in law enforcement and security.
- Explore careers in public services and administration.
- Consider joining the police.