Prison officers supervise inmates in prisons, remand centres and young offenders' institutions.

What does a prison officer do?

As a prison officer, your work would vary according to the type of prison, its level of security and the age of the prisoners.

Your duties are likely to include:

  • keeping inmates secure
  • assessing prisoners
  • carrying out security checks and search procedures
  • promoting anti-bullying and suicide prevention policies
  • 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 reflect on their offending behaviour
  • writing reports on prisoners.

With experience, you could take on additional duties such as training staff and supervising a section of a prison.

What do I need to do to become a prison officer?

To join the public prison service in England and Wales, you will need to complete an application and pass the initial eligibility requirements.

In general, you need:

  • to be 18 or over
  • to be a UK or Commonwealth citizen, European Union (EU) or other European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, or a foreign national with the right to stay and work in the UK for an indefinite period
  • to pass background and security checks, and give details of any previous convictions.

In most cases, you will also need to have been resident in the UK for three years before applying.

You may have an advantage if you have experience of working in the police or armed forces, as a security officer or probation officer, or with organisations that support ex-offenders.

The next stage after initial application is to take and pass the Prison Officer Selection Test (POST), which checks your number, reading and writing skills.

If you get through this, you will be invited to an assessment day, where you take part in role plays to see how you deal with different situations and whether you have the right personal qualities needed for the job. You would also have medical and fitness checks at this point.

If successful, you can go forward to apply for any suitable vacancies subject to further background security and criminal record checks.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Patience
  • People management
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • There are no formal qualifications needed to be a prison officer.

Where to find out more

Skills for Justice 

HM Prison Service (Justice website) 

National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Career website 

Where could I be working?

You may need to be prepared to move to another part of the country for work.

Although your work would mainly take place indoors, you would also have duties outdoors, for example when patrolling the grounds or supervising recreation.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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