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Prison officers supervise, rehabilitate and oversee the safety and security of offenders who have been sentenced to prison.
They balance authority and the need for rehabilitation.

What does a prison officer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

The job involves:

  • receiving new prisoners
  • issuing prison clothes
  • unlocking, supervising and counselling prisoners
  • dealing with prisoners' requests and applications
  • patrolling buildings
  • being aware of prisoners’ rights
  • writing reports
  • managing staff
  • controlling disorderly behaviour
  • rehabilitating and preparing prisoners for release

Shifts can include night and weekend duties. Promotional opportunities are good – there is a clear promotional pathway to senior roles.

Typical employers of prison officers

Prison officers are employed by HM Prison Service and private prisons contracted out to security firms. Similar jobs may be available at secure hospitals, within the armed forces, and with the police and intelligence services.

There is competition for vacancies, particularly for the graduate development scheme. Jobs are advertised in local and regional newspapers, careers services and job centres. The selection process includes an assessment centre and medical, fitness and security checks.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into becoming a prison officer for both university graduates and school leavers. For graduates, there is the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) programme, which trains graduates to become managers within prisons; applicants need at least a 2.2 in any subject.

For school leavers, there’s the standard entry into becoming a prison officer whereby a degree is not required. Both graduates and school leavers have to pass the Prisoner Office Selection Test (POST) as a minimum entry requirement. The POST tests your maths, writing and reading skills.

Any voluntary or paid experience can be beneficial, for example working with the police or armed forces.

The occupation requires a rational, patient and understanding individual, capable of maintaining security and control, while treating prisoners with humanity, sensitivity and respect. Consequently, training is a vital part of the job: all new recruits receive intensive training, including controlling and restraining techniques.

Key skills for prison officers

  • A non-discriminatory approach
  • Assertiveness
  • Maturity
  • Problem solving and decision-making skills
  • Being good with people from all walks of life
  • Teamworking skills
  • Listening skills
  • Negotiation skills

Candidates are also expected to have the geographical flexibility to relocate to anywhere within the UK.

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