Prison Officer

    If you are wondering how to become a prison officer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of security, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Prison officers supervise inmates in prisons, remand centres and young offenders’ institutions. Their work will vary according to the type of prison, its level of security and the age of the prisoners.

    Typical responsibilities:

    keeping inmates secure
    assessing prisoners
    carrying out security checks and search procedures
    supervising prisoners
    maintaining order – this can involve using authorised physical control and restraint
    preparing inmates for release through rehabilitation programmes
    providing support to prisoners who are vulnerable
    taking part in programmes to help prisoners look at their offending behaviour
    writing reports on prisoners.
    As a senior officer you might have additional duties such as training staff and supervising a section of a prison. Alternatively, you could be an instructor in work-related areas such as catering or horticulture, or specialise as a health care officer or physical training instructor.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good prison officers include:

    the ability to work with people from all walks of life
    the ability to establish good working relationships, gain trust and act fairly in disputes
    an open mind, patience, understanding and be committed to helping people
    the ability to work in a structured environment where rules and discipline apply
    the ability to stay calm, assess a situation, and cope with pressure
    good teamworking skills.
    a firm approach and the ability to exercise authority with prisoners who are abusive and possibly violent.

    How to become a prison officer
    To qualify as a prison officer, you will need to check the entry requirements with your national prison service, as they can vary. There are separate prison services for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are also some private prisons. To meet their general entry requirements, you will need:

    to be at least 18 years of age
    to be a British or Commonwealth citizen, British Protected Person, or EU national (there are exceptions) with indefinite leave to remain – for some posts you need to have lived in the UK for three years
    to declare any convictions
    to pass medical, eyesight and fitness tests (for details, check the prison service website).
    If you are selected to join the prison service, checks will be made on your health, character, reliability and identity.

    Any experience gained in the armed forces or police, as a security officer or probation officer will be useful. If you have practical skills or qualifications in a trade such as engineering, building, catering, metalwork, physical education, horticulture or nursing this will also be helpful.

    England and Wales
    You will need to complete an application, and skills assessment form. Success at this point leads to the Prison Officer Selection Tests which focus on your ability with numbers and language. The final stage is at a Job Simulation Assessment Centre which concentrates on role plays and identifying your interpersonal skills. You will go through this process regardless of your academic qualifications.

    To be a prison officer in Scotland you need five S grades (1-3) including English and maths, or equivalent, or three years’ experience of working with people. Relevant experience can be gained from employment, education or voluntary work. Following a successful application, you will attend an assessment day, including an interview and tests of your verbal reasoning and numerical skills.

    Northern Ireland
    Contact the prison service in Northern Ireland directly for further entry and recruitment details.

    Training and Development
    England and Wales
    Your first eight weeks as a prison officer will be taken up by induction training. This will include situational role plays aimed at preparing you for your new role working with inmates. If you are working with young people, you will receive further specialist training.

    During your first year of service you will continue to receive on-the-job training, and you will be supported and assessed by experienced staff. You will be expected to complete NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Custodial Care during your first 12 months.

    As a new prison officer in Scotland, you will spend a week in your chosen prison followed by six weeks’ training at the Scottish Prison Service College near Falkirk. Within your first two years of service, you will also be expected to achieve SVQ Level 3 in Custodial Care.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    In England and Wales, the starting salary for a prison officer is £17,744 a year.
    This can rise to £26,858 a year with long service.
    Salaries in Scotland are between £14,877 and £19,800 a year.

    Job Prospects
    In England and Wales, recruitment is carried out by individual prisons. Vacancies are advertised in Jobcentres, the local press and through the prison service website.

    In Scotland, recruitment is carried out centrally at the prison service headquarters.

    Home Office policy in England and Wales is to recruit more civilian instructors. Therefore, opportunities for prison officers to combine their work with instructing and training is declining. In Scotland there is a greater chance to mix the main prison officer tasks with instructing or training duties.

    With experience, you could be promoted to senior prison officer. This is decided by examination and interview, and you will need at least two years’ service as an officer before you can apply. It is possible to progress from senior officer to governor grades.

    In England and Wales the prison service operates an Intensive Development Scheme for graduates, which offers early progression to senior grades. Check the Prison Governor job profile for details.

    Privately-run prisons and security organisations are increasingly taking on escort and prisoner transfer duties. Contracted out prisons in England and Wales are listed on the HM Prison Service website.

    Useful security or armed forces resources:
    HM Prison Service
    Recruitment Section
    Cleland House
    Page Street
    SW1P 4LN

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