Prison officer

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:37

Provides a safe and secure environment for people in prison.

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Job description

Prison officers are responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the prisoners. They also play a role in prisoner rehabilitation and training so must be able to establish positive relationships with a variety of different people and maintain a balance between authority and compassion.

Prison Officers work directly with offenders, supervising and managing their activities. They are expected to promote social behaviour, encourage prisoners to address their offending behaviour and ensure that all rules, orders and instructions are followed. Prison Officers are required to contribute to an orderly and secure environment. The role requires officers to be motivated, compassionate and authoritative, with the purview to challenge discriminatory behaviour.

Work activities

  • Carrying out security duties as required, contributing effectively to the safe and secure custody of prisoners.
  • Ensuring that all incidents are reported and dealt with effectively, including bullying, assaults, substance misuse and self-harm.
  • Following set procedures, ensuring suicide and self-harm processes are complied with, monitoring vulnerable prisoners appropriately, completing observation book entries and preparing reports as required in a timely manner.
  • Encouraging prisoners to deal with personal challenges through offending behaviour programmes.
  • Upholding respect for prisoners, their property, rights and dignity while applying authorised control and restraint procedures where appropriate.
  • Acting as personal officer to a group of prisoners.
  • Ensuring standards of hygiene and cleanliness are maintained.

Work conditions

Travel: during the working day can be frequent to accompany prisoners being transferred, on compassionate leave, to hospitals and to court hearings.
Working hours: rotating shifts to provide continuous cove is common including weekends, evenings and public holidays.
Location: in prisons, in large towns or cities throughout the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: not possible.

Typical employers

  • Irish Prison Service
  • Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

Career development

Promotion up to and including governor can be achieved through the existing career structure.


UK/Northern Ireland: The HM Prison Service starting salary for Prison Officers is £17,187 in total, this is composed of £14,690 base pay plus £2,497 for unsocial hours working. Some establishments also have an additional local pay allowance depending on location.

Entry requirements

In the Republic of Ireland the successful completion of q two year programme leading to the award of a Higher Certificate in Custodial Care (HCCC) is a requirement in order to become an established prison officer.

In the UK, new prison officers are required to take the eight-week Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT), including a fitness test. Following this a Custodial Care NVQ (CCNVQ) is also required. Visit HM Prison Service website for more information.

Other relevant degree subjects

  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Social care
  • Social science
  • Social work
  • Sociology
  • Youth and community officer.

Postgraduate study

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a requirement.

Specific entry requirements

There are residency and nationality requirements to be met. Must have good eyesight, be in good health and reach a minimum height requirement.


Republic of Ireland: Recruit prison officers (RPOs) complete a training programme of two years, the majority of which will be spent on work placement in prisons and leads to the award of a Higher Certificate in Custodial Care (HCCC) - a recognised third-level educational award. The HCCC programme combines academic and vocational training designed to develop the skills and knowledge required for the role of a prison officer.

UK/Northern Ireland: Prison Officer Entry Level Training (POELT) is an eight-week training course designed to equip new entrants with the necessary knowledge, skills and values needed to become a confident Prison Officer.

HM Prison Service also offers a range of training and development opportunities, including areas such as equality and diversity, anti-social behaviour, suicide prevention and anti-bullying programmes.

Tips for applications

Voluntary work with socially excluded groups would be advantageous.

Skills and qualities

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, used to prevent and diffuse difficult situations and to create a positive prison environment.
  • Self-confidence to deal with all kinds of situations as and when they arise, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
  • Patience in order to deal with prisoners when faced with challenging behaviour.
  • Excellent teamwork skills.
  • Excellent powers of observation and attention to detail.
  • While on duty, a level of smartness and personal cleanliness consistent with the standards of a disciplined service.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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