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:
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.
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.
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:
Other entry requirements include:
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.
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
- 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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A prison officer should:
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.
Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.