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How to become a Prison Officer

prison officer careers

What does a Prison Officer do?

Prison officers supervise inmates in prisons, remand centres and young offenders' institutions.

They are responsible for keeping inmates secure whilst they are in custody and may be involved in rehabilitation programmes in preparation for their release. The work will vary according to the type of prison, its level of security and the age of the prisoners.

The main duties of a prison officer include assessing prisoners; carrying out security checks and search procedures; supervising prisoners and maintaining order, including using authorised physical control and restraint procedures where appropriate.

Other aspects are providing support for prisoners who are vulnerable, including those who may harm themselves; promoting anti-bullying policies; taking part in programmes to help prisoners look at their offending behaviour and advising prisoners on welfare problems.

Some officers are instructors in work-related areas such as catering or horticulture (see profile on Prison Instructors) or are specialist caterers, health care officers or physical training instructors.

Prison Officers write reports on prisoners. Senior officers have additional duties such as staff training, supervision or responsibility for a section of a prison.

In Northern Ireland there is also a slightly lower rank called a prison auxiliary who would not be given responsibility for inmate supervision.

What's the working environment like working as a Prison Officer?

Prison officers usually work 39 hours a week on a shift pattern that includes nights and weekends. There are opportunities for part-time work and jobshare.

The work is mainly indoors although some outdoor work is necessary such as patrolling the grounds or supervising recreation; this can take place in all weathers. On occasions strenuous effort is required when restraining a prisoner.

Your first post could be at a local prison but you may need to move to other parts of the country.

What does it take to become a Prison Officer?

As a prison officer you should:

  • like working with people from all walks of life
  • be able to establish good relationships with inmates and gain their trust, whilst being fair in disputes
  • be patient, understanding and committed to helping people
  • be able to work in a structured environment where rules and discipline apply
  • be able to stay calm, assess a situation, and cope with pressure
  • be firm and able to exercise authority with prisoners who are abusive and possibly violent
  • be able to work as part of a team.

Prison Officer Career Opportunities

Prison officers are recruited frequently in England, Wales and Scotland. The Northern Ireland Prison Service has been reducing the number of staff in recent years and does not expect to be recruiting in the near future.

Opportunities for prison officers to combine their work with instruction and training are declining, as Home Office policy in England and Wales is to recruit more civilian instructors. In Scotland there is little recruitment of civilian instructors, so there are more opportunities for prison officers to combine their work looking after the security of the prisoner with instructional and training duties.

Promotion to senior officer posts is by examination and interview after at least two years’ service. It is possible to progress from senior officer to governor grades.

In England and Wales the prison service operates an Intensive Development Scheme for graduates, which offers early progression to senior grades (see the Prison Governor profile).

Privately-run prisons and security organisations are increasingly taking on escort and other duties. This trend is having an impact on recruitment and job opportunities. Contracted out prisons in England and Wales are listed on the HM Prison Service website.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Prison Officer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

In England and Wales, recruitment is carried out by individual establishments. Vacancies are advertised locally in Jobcentres/Jobcentre Plus or in the local press. The prison service website also has details of current opportunities. Applications are only accepted in response to advertised vacancies.

In Scotland, recruitment is carried out centrally at the prison service headquarters.

HM Prison Service
Recruitment Section
Cleland House
Page Street

Northern Ireland Prison Service
Dundonald House
Upper Newtownards Road
Tel: 028 9052 5065

Scottish Prison Service
Calton House
5 Redheughs Rigg
EH12 9HW
Tel: 0131 244 8745

Skills for Justice
9 Riverside Court
Don Road
S9 2TJ
Tel: 0114 261 1499

Facts and Stats:

  • The Ministry of Defence is British Industry''s largest single customer
  • Every year, civil servants are responsible for public spending of around £300bn
  • If every MP turned up at the chambers of the House of Commons at the same time, there would not be enough seats for them all to sit down

Courses to help you become a Prison Officer