Tom Hanks in Green Mile and the film Shawshank Redemption might have given you a pretty skewed idea of what prison officers are like (and let’s not even mention Prison Break). You might think that prison officers spend their days rattling bars, or are simply glorified security officers. Well, you’d be mistaken.
True, prison officers are there to maintain a secure environment (and make sure that no prisoners escape), as well as ensure everybody follows the prison rules and orders.
However, they also have a responsibility to help prisoners to address their offending behaviour, and help minimise the chances of reoffending. So, while they might be supervising prisoners, they’ll be encouraging them to participate in programmes and activities too.
Typical day-to-day duties will include everything from reporting and dealing with incidents, such as bullying, substance abuse and assaults, to carrying out security duties and maintaining order – sometimes physically. There’s a fair bit of paperwork, too, as prison officers will have to submit reports, handle prisoner applications and complete observation books entries.
Salary & benefits
So what do prison officers earn? Starting salaries range from £16,000 to £19,000, plus there is the option to work four extra hours a week, pushing the salary up.
Experienced prison officers can earn around £31,000 whilst those moving into more managerial positions can earn even more.
Prison officers work in shifts, which means they might work nights and at the weekend.
A typical working week is usually 37 hours long, although there are often opportunities to do a bit of overtime work for extra money.
If you want to become a prison officer, there are some stringent requirements regarding nationality that you’ll have comply with (you can find details here).
Applicants must be over the age of 18 and, naturally, you’ll have to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS, formerly CRB, or Criminal Records Bureau) check and tests to make sure you meet other minimum eligibility requirements.
After that, you’ll be sent an on-line numeracy test, before being invited to a recruitment assessment day, which will involve a language test, role-play simulations, medical screening and a fitness test.
Prison officers need to be non-judgemental and have the ability to build good relationships with a variety of different people. They should have an appreciation for structured environments, rules and discipline as well as the ability to stay calm under pressure and think quickly.
Prison officers need to be authoritative and have a thick skin, but also want to help and understand others.
Training & progression
Wannabe prison officers undertake an eight-week training course (involving practical assessments, written exams and ‘on-the-job’ training) and they’ll also complete a Custodial Care NVQ Level 3.
After two years, prison officers can apply to become senior prison officers and, with more experience, be promoted through the ranks to a governor position.