Prison officer: job description

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

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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:

  • supervising and manage prisoners
  • performing security checks and search procedures
  • giving prisoners well-informed advice
  • supporting prisoners’ connection with professional help and developing relationships with those involved in their welfare – eg social workers
  • 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 and ensuring dangerous behaviours such as bullying and self-harm are dealt with appropriately and effectively
  • 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.

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. There's also a two-year graduate scheme called Unlocked. The programme includes six weeks of initial training, a fully-funded masters degree and a placement with a top employer.

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. 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.

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
  • ability to communicate well with people from all walks of life
  • teamworking skills
  • listening skills.
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