How to Become a Prison Officer

Do you believe you can deal with people from various backgrounds that have committed crimes in the past and are expected to change their lifestyles to stand a chance of having a brighter future? Do you have firm but fair approach and think you can ensure people abide by rules? If yes, think about a career as a prison officer, because it is people like you who can make prison experience better and help inmates prepare for a life after confinement. 

The job of a prison officer has received some spotlight through popular TV films and many now think they know what life in prison is like. The Ministry of Justice warns that this TV portrayal is distorted and does not reflect the reality on the ground. Before choosing a career of a prison officer it is necessary, among other things, to have good understanding of what this job is really about and what skills one will need to make a good prison officer. 

What Do Prison Officers Do?

Typical activities that prison officers perform include:

  • Keeping inmates secure
  • Assessing prisoners
  • Carrying out security checks and any necessary search procedures
  • Promoting anti-bullying and homicide prevention policies

Part of your job will be to prepare inmates for release through rehabilitation programmes. Because not all inmates would be willing to conform and follow rules, you may have to use authorised physical control and restraint. 

As a prison officer you should be able to act effectively and in a calm manner whenever there are emergency or life-threatening situations. 

You will need to be disciplined and patient yourself to be able to deal with inmates who are known for their challenging behaviour. 

As a prison officer, you are required by law to treat everyone with respect and dignity under whatever circumstances. 

Entry Requirements and Qualifications (UK)

To be eligible for the job of a prison officer, it is required that you are a UK or Commonwealth national, a British Protected person, or a national of the European Economic Area. For more details on nationality and residence requirements for the job, visit the HM Prison Service. 

You will need to be over 18 years' of age before you can be appointed to serve as a prison officer. A standard security and background checks will be conducted to assess your suitability for the position. You will be required to reveal information about any previous criminal and administrative convictions you may have. 

To be considered for this position, you will have to pass the Prison Officer Selection Test (POST) at the initial stage of application. 

The POST test consists of two parts - POST numeracy test and POST language test. Your ability to read and comprehend legal documents and safety regulations, as well as the ability to make basic arithmetic calculations will be tested. 

At the second stage, your behavioural skills will be assessed through role play simulations. The 6 core skills your employer would be interested to check during these simulations are: 

1.Non-verbal communication, 

2.Showing understanding, 

3.Suspending judgement, 


5.Respect for diversity, and 

6.Exploring and clarifying.

For details about role play simulations and the core skills, visit the HM Prison Service. 

Fitness Test

Before you will be invited for the fitness test, a medical assessment will be conducted. If you are reasonably fit and meet a minimum eyesight standard in both eyes, you can proceed to the final fitness test.

The fitness test consists of five parts: 

  • Grip strength test 
  • Multi-stage fitness test 
  • Dynamic strength test 
  • Speed agility run test 
  • Shield Test  

Before starting the job, you will need to complete the Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) course which runs 8 weeks and consists of theoretical classes and prison placements. Further training will be provided through the NVQ Level 3 Custodial Care programme to all newly recruited prison officers. 

Hours and Income

As a prison officer, you would normally work 37 hours a week on a shift system. The following are the estimated salary levels for prison officers, according to the National Career Service: 

Prison Officer Salaries



New Officers



Experienced Officers




Employers and Career Prospects

The recruitment is carried out by individual prisons. Vacancies are advertised on the Ministry of Justice website as well as in local press. Jobs are also available through the National Offender Management Service Graduate Programame

With experience, you can be promoted to the role of prison supervisor or staff trainer.




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