Q&A: Working in the Prison Service

Claire has had a varied career, from working in sales to a dispenser in a pharmacy. Like for many others, the pandemic made her rethink certain aspects of her life. She decided on a career change as she wanted something more challenging and fulfilling – and the prison service offered just that.

After initially working as a Prison Support Officer/ OSG, Claire was quickly promoted to a Band 3 Prison Officer. We asked her about her role, the selection process and her recommendations for anyone interested in working in the prison service. (Names have been changed for security reasons).

Photo by Larry Far on Unsplash


What is your current job title?

I am a Band 3 Prison officer in a Cat B remand prison. The job involves supervising and supporting prisoners in a rehabilitative environment. whilst always maintaining full control and security.

What was the application process?

There is a stringent recruitment procedure for working in prisons. The process involved an online test in the form of a game, then an online Zoom rag day (assessment day) which entails a maths test, English test, two one-on-one interviews and two role play scenarios. There was also a fitness test which includes a grip test, riot shield test, agility test and finally a bleep test.

What is the training for the job?

The first two weeks in the job are spent shadowing. There are eight weeks studying for a level 3 diploma in Safer Care in Custody Training and then another two weeks shadowing on the job.

What is the day to day like in your current role as a prison officer?

The daily routine includes tasks such as:

  • Unlocking prisoners for medication, exercise, workshops and education
  • Feeding prisoners meals
  • Conversation to ensure all basic requirements are met regarding mental health and hygiene
  • Key work sessions to ensure prisoners are happy with their sentence plan and any help needed for resettlement after release
  • Checking any ACCT’s, which are people on a mental heath or self harm document
  • Escorting prisoners to medical appointments at outside hospitals


Do you work as part of a team or mainly alone?

You always work as a team. Two officers must be present when unlocking and locking or escorting. The wing only works if we are a tight team who can communicate well.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Every day presents new challenges. I like the interaction with prisoners; speaking to them and understanding their thought processes. You hope that you may be able to help towards changing them and stopping them reoffending. I also enjoy the fact that every day is different, and you never know what to expect.

What are the main challenges?

Mental health problems are common and challenging. Also, education levels vary and help will be needed for reading and writing. Prisoners who do not wish to change, or who have become accustomed to prison life or a criminal way of life can be challenging to deal with.

Is the job what you expected it to be?

For the most part yes, but it is a lot more mentally tiring than I expected. Prisoners can be very needy and some become lazy and feel we are there to do everything, rather than help them learn how to do things by themselves.

What qualities or skills are important for this sort of role?

Life skills play a big part in the job. Being able to listen without judging and leave prejudices at the gate. You need to want to help and learn to understand the prisoners. You might be fighting against your instincts, but you have to.

With hindsight, what would you tell someone just starting out in the prison service?

Be yourself. The prisoners will see through you if you try to be someone you are not.
Do not be afraid to be scared at times.
Stand your ground and stick to it. Say ‘no’ in the first instance as it is easier to change a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ than the other way round.
It is a very rewarding job but expect to be a nurse and a counsellor. You will see blood and death. Make sure it is a role that you really want and not just a job you take lightly. It is tough, but generally the good days outweigh the bad.


Find out more:

Working for HMPS
Employment can be in a wide variety of officer, healthcare, chaplaincy, managerial, support & administrative roles
Q&A… Speak to a Prison Officer
In one of our most-read articles, a young graduate prison officer talks about her experience working for HM Prison Service…
Unlock Your Potential
Find out about an award-winning leadership development programme, which teaches vital leadership skills as a prison officer, while helping to turn around the lives of prisoners, to stop them reoffending