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.
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.
As a prison officer you should:
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.
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