Job descriptions and industry overviews

Prison officer: job description

21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Prison officers supervise prisoners and oversee their safety and security, as well as helping rehabilitate them.

Life as a prison officer

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

Prison officers work directly with prisoners in day-to-day situations and help them and plan for the future through rehabilitation programmes. They also need to work closely with colleagues to ensure prisoners and facilities are safe and secure.

Typical duties include:

  • supervising prisoners
  • performing security checks and searches
  • helping prisoners access support and maintain relationships with professionals such as social workers
  • dealing with prisoners' requests and applications – for example, for transfer to a different category of prison
  • responding to emergencies and incidents, both immediately and as part of incident reviews
  • supervising prisoners on external visits such as to hospital appointments
  • working with small groups of prisoners to help them prepare for release
  • patrolling buildings
  • being aware of prisoners’ rights and ensuring dangerous behaviours such as bullying and self-harm are dealt with appropriately and effectively
  • keeping accurate records and 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.

Graduate salaries

Graduates joining the Unlocked Graduates leadership programme, a scheme aimed at training graduates to work in the Prison Service, earn around £23,000–£30,000 initially (according to –see below), depending on their location.

Trainee prison officers outside this scheme earn a similar amount. If you’re willing to relocate for your first job, you could entitled to higher pay and paid accommodation for up to three years.

Typical employers of prison officers

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

Jobs are advertised on the HM Prison Service page of GOV.UK and the Ministry of Justice website. You can register for the Unlocked Graduates scheme via its website,

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into becoming a prison officer for both university graduates and school leavers.

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

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

School leavers can apply for a custody and detention apprenticeship, which involves studying for a qualification while working in the Prison Service.

Key skills for prison officers

Recruiters will be looking for:

  • the ability to show compassion, patience and sensitivity
  • the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • assertiveness
  • problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • the ability to communicate well with people from all walks of life
  • teamworking skills
  • listening skills.

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