Prison officer

A prison officer


Prison officers supervise inmates in a correctional facility and ensure the security and peace-keeping in the facility. They perform checks and searches to ensure compliance to regulations, monitor visitations and the activities of inmates as well as participate in programs of rehabilitation, and ensure records maintenance.

The duties of a prison officer include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining order within the facility by enforcing rules and regulations, monitoring inmates’ behavior, and providing counseling services to help rehabilitate inmates
  • Assisting with inmate transportation between facilities or during transfers to courtrooms
  • Monitoring inmates in their cells for signs of distress, such as suicidal tendencies or signs of high anxiety or depression, and responding appropriately
  • Training new corrections officers on policies and procedures for inmate management, security, and safety
  • Conducting searches of inmates’ living quarters for contraband items such as drugs or weapons
  • Managing the daily activities of inmates to ensure that they are following rules and obeying regulations
  • Reporting any suspicious activity or violations of rules to supervisors
  • Issuing disciplinary action when appropriate, such as writing reports or conducting investigations
  • Serving as a liaison between inmates and medical staff, providing medical treatment to inmates as needed

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to prison officer:

prison guard
prisoner custody officer
detention officer
prison warden
corrections officer

Working conditions

Correctional officers may work indoors or outdoors, and bailiffs generally work in courtrooms. They both may be required to stand for long periods.

Injuries and Illnesses

Working in a correctional institution can be stressful and dangerous. Prison officers may become injured in confrontations with inmates, and they have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.

The job demands that prison officers be alert and ready to react throughout their entire shift.

Work Schedules

Prison officers usually work full time on rotating shifts. Because jail and prison security must be provided around the clock, officers work all hours of the day and night, including weekends and holidays. Many officers are required to work overtime.

Minimum qualifications

A high school diploma is a minimum requirement for most prison officers. However, some employers may prefer a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Prison officer is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Prison officer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to prison officer.

juvenile correctional officer
street warden
police officer
airport security officer
civil enforcement officer

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of prison officer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of prison officer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

court bailiff
immigration officer
police inspector
police detective
customs and excise officer

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of prison officer.

  • Law enforcement: The different organisations involved in law enforcement, as well as the laws and regulations in law enforcement procedures.
  • Legal use-of-force: The characteristics of the use-of-force, which is a legal doctrine employed by police and army forces, to regulate acts of violence during interventions. Use-of-force is ought to balance security needs with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects.
  • Illegal substances: The forbidden substances which cannot be transported from one area to another, or carried by an individual, as well as their nature and how to handle them.
  • Correctional procedures: The legal regulations and policies concerning the operations of correctional facilities, and other correctional procedures.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of prison officer.

  • Restrain individuals: Restrain, or control by force, individuals who violate regulations in terms of acceptable behaviour, who present a threat to others, and who perform acts of violence, to ensure the individual is unable to proceed in this negative behaviour and to protect others.
  • Undertake inspections: Undertake safety inspections in areas of concern to identify and report potential hazards or security breaches; take measures to maximise safety standards.
  • Comply with the principles of self-defence: Observe the principles according to which a person should only use so much force as is required to repel an attack. The use of deadly force is limited to situations where attackers are using deadly force themselves.
  • Ensure compliance with types of weapons: Use different kinds of firearms and other types of weapons and their matching ammunition, in compliance with legal requirements.
  • Handle conflicts: Mediate in conflicts and tense situations by acting between parties, such as service users, important others like families, and institutions, striving to effect an agreement, reconciliate, and resolve problems.
  • See to the detainees’ well-being: See to the welfare of the prisoners providing primary commodities and services such as distributing food and clothes, calling the doctor and others.
  • Identify security threats: Identify security threats during investigations, inspections, or patrols, and perform the necessary actions to minimise or neutralise the threat.
  • Escort defendants: Escort suspects and known offenders from one area to another, such as in a prison or from a cell to a courtroom, to ensure they do not escape, that they are not violent, or otherwise exceed the limits of acceptable behaviour, as well as to be able to respond to any emergencies.
  • Patrol areas: Patrol a designated area, watch out for and respond to suspicious and dangerous situations, and communicate with emergency response organisations.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of prison officer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Criminology: The study of criminal behaviour, such as its causes and nature, its consequences, and control and prevention methods.
  • Surveillance methods: Surveillance methods used in the gathering of information and intelligence for investigation purposes.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of prison officer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Conduct frisk: Conduct frisks, or pat downs, with individual to ensure there are no illegal or dangerous items concealed on their person, in a manner appropriate and compliant with regulations.
  • Show responsibility: Accept responsibility and be accountable for professional decisions of yourself or others as part of a job or one’s role.
  • Maintain logbooks: Maintain the required logbooks according to practice and in established formats.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Oversee rehabilitation process: Oversee the rehabilitation process of offenders during their stay in a correctional facility, to ensure that they follow the instructions, show good behaviour, and work towards full re-integration when they are released.
  • Manage security clearance: Manage the systems and monitor the functioning of the security clearance system and staff working to ensure security of the facility, to ensure no non-authorised individuals acquire access and to monitor potential risks and threats.
  • Contribute to the formulation of correctional procedures: Contribute to the formulation of regulations and procedures concerning the operations of correctional facilities.
  • Respond to enquiries: Respond to enquiries and requests for information from other organisations and members of the public.
  • Handle surveillance equipment: Monitor surveillance equipment to observe what people are doing in a given area and ensure their safety.
  • Apply knowledge of human behaviour: Practice principles related to group behaviour, trends in society, and influence of societal dynamics.
  • Write situation reports: Write reports according to specifications and regulations of an organisation on the situation which needs to be reported on, such as the status of an investigation, of intelligence gathering, or of missions and operations.
  • Maintain operational communications: Maintain communications between different departments of an organisation, between the staff, or during specific operations or missions, to ensure that the operation or mission is successful, or that the organisation functions smoothly.
  • Ensure law application: Ensure the laws are followed, and where they are broken, that the correct measures are taken to ensure compliance to the law and law enforcement.
  • Propose leisure activities: Propose appropriate recreational activities based on the targeted public’s behaviour and wishes.
  • Practice vigilance: Practice vigilance during patrol or other surveillance activities in order to ensure safety and security, to look out for suspicious behaviour or other alarming changes in patterns or activities, and to respond quickly to these changes.
  • Conduct security screenings: Monitor human flow through the screening checkpoint and facilitate the orderly and efficient processing of people; inspect luggage and handbags following screening procedures.

ISCO group and title

5413 – Prison guards

  1. Prison officer – ESCO
  2. Prison officer | Explore careers – National Careers Service
  3. Correctional Officers and Bailiffs : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  4. Prison Officer Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  5. Featured image: Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
Last updated on November 5, 2022

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