How much does a prison officer make? (and how to earn more)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 4 September 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Prison officers play an important role in the supervision of prison inmates, in addition to young offenders' institutions and remand centres. They might work long hours in remote locations, depending on the specific institution at which they're employed. If you're considering this career option, it can be helpful to know how much a prison officer earns. In this article, we explain how much a prison officer makes, how this salary might increase and the requirements to become a prison officer.

How much does a prison officer make?

The national average salary for a prison officer is £26,881 per year. This figure can vary based on experience, employer and some aspects of the work. A typical starting salary for a prison officer is £22,000 per year, while an experienced individual might earn £38,000 per year. There are also career progression opportunities, like advancing to the position of supervising officer, head of function, custodial manager, governor or deputy governor. Prison officers are typically entitled to 25 days of annual leave. They also receive a civil service pension scheme.

Related: A guide to civil service jobs

What does a prison officer do?

Prison officers are responsible for the safety and running of prisons, and consequently, many are employed by Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). One of the primary functions of this role is ensuring that inmates are secure and kept within the bounds of the prison. Prison officers, therefore, perform regular searches and security checks, both of the premises and the inmates. They ensure that order is maintained and supervise prisoners as they perform their daily activities. If the circumstances require it, a prison officer may have to use force to restrain inmates who become difficult to manage.

The role of a prison officer can also be supportive. They may help with rehabilitation, encourage positive behaviour, support vulnerable inmates and supervise productive activities. They might also be required to escort inmates on outside visits, such as to hospitals, courthouses or remand centres. Prison officers also maintain and update records on inmates, and may even have an active role in suicide prevention and protecting inmates.

Related: How to become a probation officer

What is a prison officer's working environment like?

As a prison officer, you can expect to work irregular and unsocial hours. This could involve working over the weekends, at night and early in the morning. Prisons require that there always be a certain number of prison officers on duty at any time, so your hours and those of your colleagues are going to overlap to accommodate this. Typically, you're contracted for either 37, 39 or 41 hours per week as a prison officer. Each of these can relate to a different salary, plus allowances, pension and other benefits.

The majority of a prison officer's working hours are spent on the premises of a prison. A lot of this time is spent nearby or in the company of inmates, ensuring that order and security are maintained. The precise nature of the prison typically depends on what category it falls under. In England and Wales, these categories are based on threats to stability and control of the institution, the risk of escape and how dangerous inmates would be if they did escape. The various categories of prison and what they mean are as follows:

  • Category A prison: These are the highest security prisons in the country. The inmates are deemed to be the highest threat to the public if they escape.

  • Category B prison: These prisons are local or used for training purposes. A local prison houses inmates that are sentenced by a local court or on remand, whereas a training prison houses long-term prisons and high-security inmates.

  • Category C prison: These institutions are resettlement and training prisons. They house a significant proportion of the nation's inmates and have opportunities for them to learn skills so they can resettle upon release.

  • Category D prison: These are minimal security prisons where the inmates can spend a lot of time away from the institution to carry out work on licence. Only inmates who have had a risk assessment and are deemed safe can be housed in these prisons, and they may be learning or otherwise preparing for resettlement.

There are also Young Offender Institutions (YOI), which house prisoners who are between the ages of 18 and 21. Any offender under the age of 18 is held in Youth Custody. All of these institutions require prison officers.

Related: Your guide to public sector jobs

How can you increase your salary as a prison officer?

Your salary as a prison officer depends on your experience and location, and all prison officers undergo training prior to being allowed to work. One way to earn more is to get a contract for a 41-hour week, whereby you could earn a higher sum of between £23,052 and £32,476 per year. The latter figure is for one of four prisons in London, namely Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Pentonville and Brixton. This salary consists of a base salary of £29,846 plus an allowance of £3,000. You'd also receive a pension and other benefits.

For example, if you worked 41 hours per week at HMP Brixton, you'd earn just over £3,000 more per year than if you worked 37 hours per week at the same institution. A 41-hour week at a London prison would also pay approximately £9,400 per year more than certain locations across England and Wales for the same hours, and around £11,700 per year more than a 37-hour week at one of these other prisons. If you're hoping to increase your salary as a prison officer, consider both the number of hours and location, as these can have a significant effect on your earnings.

Related: 15 jobs for retired police officers (with salaries)

How to become a prison officer

If you're interested in becoming a prison officer, there are a couple of ways to become one. Consider some of the steps listed below:

1. Get some GCSEs

Becoming a prison officer has no formal requirements, but having some GCSEs can still be very useful. This is especially true if you're considering an apprenticeship as a custody and detention officer. This is an advanced apprenticeship, and you'd typically require GCSEs in maths and English, with grades of C or higher (4 to 9).

2. Complete an apprenticeship (optional)

One way of becoming a prison officer is through an advanced apprenticeship as a custody and detention officer. This apprenticeship prepares you for work in prisons, detention centres and custodial establishments. An apprenticeship like this one can also lead to related roles, such as custodial officer, escorting officer or detention officer. This is a level three apprenticeship and lasts between 12 and 18 months.

3. Apply directly for prison officer positions

You could become a prison officer without an apprenticeship by applying directly. There are no formal requirements or qualifications necessary, but your character and personal qualities are going to be very important. You can expect to complete an online test that determines your ability to make judgements in certain situations and how good you are with numbers. After completing this, you're typically invited to attend an assessment day. This consists of a numeracy and literacy test, roleplay to determine your character, fitness tests, eyesight and medical examinations and an interview.

Related: How to become a prison officer in 5 steps

Prison officer frequently asked questions

Below is a collection of some frequently asked questions regarding prison officers, along with their respective answers:

What are the career progression options for a prison officer?

As a prison officer, you can advance to more senior positions by getting experience and demonstrating that you have the necessary skills. For instance, you could work towards becoming a prison governor. This is a senior position that manages a prison or similar institution and has a national average salary between £47,500 per year and £75,500 per year.

Related: Top tips for successful career progression

What pension scheme do prison officers get?

Prison officers employed by Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service are automatically entitled to the civil service pension scheme. If you choose to opt into this, you contribute 5.45% of your salary on average, and your employer would contribute a further 18%.

How are prison officers trained?

The training period for a new prison officer is 12 weeks, which mostly consists of the prison officer entry-level training (POELT). During this period, you're expected to complete an SFK Level 3 Diploma in Management and Care of Individuals in a Custodial Environment. The POELT takes 10 weeks, with one week before and after being hosted by your establishment. These are the introductory and consolidation weeks, respectively.

Related: What does a probation officer do? (Duties and skills)

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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