Working as a prison officer
Prison officers are responsible for the safety of the local community, the prison staff and the prisoners. Prison officers also contribute more and more to rehabilitative services such as substance abuse programmes and prisoners’ recreational activities. Prison officers perform an important and meaningful service to society in a position that carries a lot of responsibility.
In addition to accountability and interpersonal skills, prison officers need to have a solid understanding of security and supervision duties, competence in rehabilitation and management as well as familiarity with the relevant laws and regulations.
Professional interaction and learning to understand prisoners are cornerstones of security and supervision work. The starting point is a stable and safe operating environment in which security threats among prisoners and between prisoners and staff, substance abuse and factors that breed instability have been minimised. Although communication is prison officers’ most important tool, it is also sometimes necessary to resort to physical force. Ensuring safety and security requires the ability to foresee and analyse security risks.
The role of prison officers has become more and more varied over time. Goal-orientated contacts with prisoners are designed to help the prisoner lead a life without crime.
The work of prison officers is strictly regulated. It is guided by laws, regulations and instructions on prison and probation services as well as the Criminal Sanctions Agency’s values: respect for human dignity, justness, safety and belief in an individual’s potential to change and grow. The profession requires knowledge of criminal sanctions practices and procedures and also increasingly of the activities of stakeholders.
Prison officers’ responsibilities include welcoming new inmates, introducing them to the prison rules and providing advice and guidance. Prisoners must be monitored and managed continuously and around the clock. The nature of monitoring varies depending on the institution: Open prisons naturally have less monitoring. Of all prison staff, prison officers interact with the prisoners the most and are on site around the clock. The work involves demanding social situations, which call for a stable nature, a healthy self-esteem, good interpersonal skills and the ability to tolerate and solve conflicts.
Prison officers make inspections on prisoners and the premises, cells and workstations that they use, looking for forbidden items and substances, for example. Prison officers’ duties include monitoring meetings between prisoners and visitors. Prison officers also escort prisoners outside the prison, if necessary, to take them to court or hospital, for example, as well as to various kinds of events. Prison officers are also responsible for guiding officials and visitors who come to the prison.
Interaction with prisoners requires professional competence and a goal-orientated approach. The aim of contact work is to make punishments effective, motivate prisoners and teach them a lifestyle free of crime.
All interaction with prisoners and day-to-day situations involve contact work. Contact work requires prison officers to take a proactive role in prisoners’ rehabilitation and in providing guidance and implementing sentence plans. The goal is to help prisoners adapt to society.
Teamwork skills are required for working with other members of prison staff and other authorities, stakeholders and professionals as well as prisoners’ families and loved ones. Team leadership skills are also needed when working with prisoners.
Prison officers must have sufficient basic know-how of the causes and consequences of crime, its effects on control and the associated mental health and substance abuse problems. They must also be able to motivate and encourage convicts to lead a life free of crime.
Prison officers use their interpersonal skills, their knowledge of the prisoners and their own personality in their work. Information technology is needed for purposes such as monitoring, information gathering and reporting. Prison officers usually work in shifts, and newly qualified prison officers need to be prepared to also work evenings, nights and weekends. A driving licence is also necessary for performing the duties. The profession demands the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and situations. Good stress tolerance is needed when working with convicted criminals in special circumstances.
The employment situation in prison and probation services is good thanks to the necessity of the work, the statutory nature of the duties and the fact that the number of students can be adjusted according to the number of vacancies. Security professionals in particular often find employment as soon as they get their basic qualification.
Prison officers are employees of the Criminal Sanctions Agency, which operates under the Ministry of Justice. The Criminal Sanctions Agency is responsible for implementing remand imprisonment as well as executing community service and prison sentences. The aim of the institution is to help keep society safe and prevent recidivism. The Criminal Sanctions Agency employs approximately 2,500 people, of whom approximately half work as prison officers.