Prison Officers are the main front-line Prison Service staff working in prisons. They are responsible for ensuring and maintaining prison security, as well as ministering to the needs of prisoners.
The precise work carried out by prison officers varies depending on the category of prison they work in, with a greater emphasis on security in the more secure institutions.
Prison officers are typically responsible for carrying out security checks and searching procedures including security systems, contractor security and patrol duties; supervising prisoners, keeping an account of prisoners in their charge and maintaining proper order; supervising visits; escorting prisoners; providing prisoner information; advising and counselling prisoners; making sure prisoners have access to professional help if needed; and employing authorised physical control and restraint procedures where appropriate.
They are also charged with taking proper care of prisoners and their property, taking account of their rights and dignity and their personal responsibility; providing appropriate care and support for prisoners at risk of self harm; promoting anti-bullying and suicide prevention policies; taking an active part in rehabilitation programmes for prisoners; assessing and advising prisoners; and writing reports on prisoners.
Prison officers are graded according to their seniority, and may have responsibility for other officers or wings of a prison.
All prison officers must meet minimum eyesight standards and pass a medical exam and physical fitness test, in view of the demands of the job.
Prison officers are the first to witness any problems in the prison system. They are represented in the UK by the POA (The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers.)
Concerns have been raised about the relative lack of training and experience of prison officers working in the private sector, compared to officers employed by the Prison Service. Some have said that prison officers in the private sector lack sufficient training and experience and argue that this is a risk to prisoner safety.
There are concerns within the prison system as a whole that there are too few prison officers to ensure the safety of prisoners and the security of institutions. Increasingly, prisons have sought to cut costs by replacing staff with electronic monitoring.
Furthermore, the stresses of the job have generated recruitment and retention problems amongst Prison Officers. The Prison Officers Association has claimed that prison officer sickness is the highest in the public sector.
There have also been suggestions of bullying and institutional racism in the Prison Service. The 'closed' nature of the prison system has raised concerns about prison officers' accountability. In 2000, a criminal investigation into alleged torture and ill-treatment of prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London resulted in criminal charges against at least 27 prison officers.
A subsequent report on Wormwood Scrubs by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, published in June 2000, was severely critical of the prison, including the attitudes of prison officers.
But prison officers complain their hard work is ignored by the government, while overall working conditions have declined in the face of overcrowded prisons.
In common with many public sector workers, prison officers have complained of low pay. In 2007, prison officers said they were being offered a below-inflation pay deal after the government said a recommended 2.5 per cent award would be staggered.
Following a ballot of the Prison Officer's Association's (POA) members, prison officers voted to strike in protest at low pay. On August 29 2007 more than 20,000 prison officers walked out in the first such action of the association's 68-year history. The strike lasted 12 hours and was roundly condemned by the government, who said it was illegal for prison officers to strike.
Another area of controversy is the privatisation of prisons. The POA launched its 'Prisons are not for Profit' campaign in 2009 following reports that the then Labour government intended to extend prison privatisation, a policy that is to be continued under the present Coalition government.
The union is concerned that private prisons will operate with fewer staff in order to maximise profit and that this reduction in staffing will result in more assaults, self-harm, suicides, and less security in prisons. The POA has pledged it will continue to vigorously promote its 'Prisons are not for Profit' campaign.
The national starting salary for Prison Officers is £18,720 (inclusive of base pay and 17% addition for unsocial hours working) for working a 37 hour week.
There is an option to commit to work up to four additional hours per week which are paid at an enhanced rate and would increase the indicative starting salary to £20,796 (inclusive of base pay, 17% addition for unsocial hours working and for additional committed hours).
Establishments in Inner and Outer London attract a higher indicative starting salary.
Conditions of service requires that annual leave is recorded in hours.
Annual leave allowance is based on 5 weeks of the basic working week (37 hours) on entry (185 hours in total), rising to 6 weeks (222 hours) after 10 years' service.
Normally a proportion of Prison Officers annual leave will be pre-scheduled. Part time and job share will be pro rata.
A Prison Officer is entitled to 10.5 days (78 hours) in recognition of bank, public and privilege holidays. These hours are added to the annual leave allowance.
The Civil Service offers a choice of two pension schemes.
Source: Ministry of Justice - 2011
"Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release."
HM Prison Service – 2012