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Prison officers supervise prisoners and oversee their safety and security, as well as working to help rehabilitate them.

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

Prison officers need a wide range of skills: as well as working directly with prisoners in day-to-day situations, they also help rehabilitate them and plan for the future.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • receiving new prisoners
  • unlocking and supervising prisoners
  • dealing with prisoners' requests and applications
  • working with small groups of prisoners to help them prepare for release
  • patrolling buildings
  • being aware of prisoners’ rights
  • writing reports
  • managing staff
  • controlling disorderly behaviour.

The job involves shift work, including nights and weekend duties. Promotional opportunities are good – there's a clear promotional pathway to senior roles. Starting salaries are around £22,000 outside London and £29,000 in London.

Typical employers of prison officers

  • HM Prison Service
  • Private prisons contracted out to security firms.

Jobs are advertised on the Prison and Probation Services website. There's also a graduate scheme, Unlocked, that opens for applications every autumn.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into becoming a prison officer for both university graduates and school leavers. The Unlocked scheme is for graduates who want to develop leadership skills and work towards a masters degree in leadership. You'll need at least a 2.1 to apply, and there's a multi-stage recruitment process.

You can also apply for prison officer roles at public and private prisons around the country. If you're successful, you'll start with a 12-week training programme.

Applicants for all roles will need to pass fitness and security checks as part of the recruitment process.

To find out how to become a prison officer if you're not a graduate, see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

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

Key skills for prison officers

Recruiters look for candidates who are rational, patient and understanding. You'll need to be able to maintain control in stressful situations while treating prisoners with humanity, sensitivity and respect. Other essential skills and qualities include:

  • assertiveness
  • maturity
  • problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • being good with people from all walks of life
  • teamworking skills
  • listening skills
  • negotiation skills.

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