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The application process

How long will it take?

The time it takes to complete your application can vary depending on how quickly an assessment date is secured, and how long your background checks take. The application form and online tests can be done quickly.

On average, you can expect the application process to take 6-7 months in total from when you start your application to day one on the job.

We will do our best to ensure it is as quick as possible and you will be kept updated and informed at every stage of your application journey.

1. Apply online

This process will only take about 10 minutes.

Start by finding a prison officer vacancy on the find a job page.

Click ‘View job & apply’ to read the job description and apply.

Enter important personal details, such as nationality and your right to work in the UK. We use these to check you’re eligible to be a prison officer.

You will need your National Insurance number.

2. Online tests

You will be invited to complete the scenario-based test, presenting you with different behavioural and numerical scenarios you might face as a prison officer.

We use this to check you have the basic numeracy skills and behaviours expected of a prison officer.

We will let you know immediately if you pass the online tests. If you are successful, we will invite you to the Online Assessment Centre.

3. Online Assessment Centre

The Online Assessment Centre is a half day assessment carried out online through  a laptop with webcam.  Our friendly assessors will meet you and test to see if you have the abilities, behaviours, strengths and fitness to be a prison officer.

We will give you more information of what to expect and how to best prepare later on your application journey. Or, you can prepare now by visiting our candidate portal.


4. Background checks

Once your prison officer position is available, we will carry out your pre-employment checks including security, identity, past employment and health. These checks can take a few weeks.
If a position is not available, you will be put on a merit list. We only begin the background checks when there is an immediate vacancy for you.  You are able to wait on a merit list for up to 12 months.

5. Application success

Once you have passed the online tests, assessments and background checks, you will be eligible to work as a prison officer.

Find out more about offers and onboarding .

Before you start in your role, you will complete foundation training where you will learn and practise all the key skills and behaviours that are vital in the role of a prison officer.

Before you start

Check if you are eligible to become a prison officer. You will need to:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • have the right to work in the UK
  • be reasonably fit and able to pass our fitness test
  • have good eyesight in both eyes, both with and without corrective lenses
  • be able to hear normal conversation at a distance of 10 feet (3m) without the use of hearing aids. Hearing will be tested by formal assessment on the day.

To work in a high security prison (category A) you must have been resident in the UK for the last 3 years.

Visa sponsorship

Please note, we are unable to sponsor prison officer applicants via the Skilled Worker Sponsorship/Tier 2 (general) work visa.

Successful applicants must ensure they have and maintain the legal right to live and work in the Civil Service and in the United Kingdom.

Essential skills

You don’t need qualifications to become a prison officer. Personal qualities are more important.

We expect you to demonstrate the following:

  • good communication and influencing skills
  • teamwork and collaboration
  • effective decision-making
  • care and understanding

Get ready for stage 1 of the online tests

We use realistic scenarios to see if you have the judgement and skills to be a prison officer.

During the online test you will be asked how you would deal with situations you might face working in a prison including:

  • judging the effectiveness of actions
  • solving basic numeracy and counting tasks

Practise how you would handle the behavioural scenarios

Practise how you would handle the numerical scenarios

What happens at the medical and fitness tests?

We will send you details about the medical and fitness tests before you go. Here is an overview of what to expect:

Health check

Occupational Health will carry out a medical assessment to check you can safely take part in the fitness test. The assessment involves a basic health screening including checking your blood pressure.

You will also have a hearing test and eyesight test in both eyes.

A suitable standard of hearing (without the use of hearing aids) is required for safety reasons for all potential candidates for prison officer training. This is to ensure that if an officer’s hearing aids are dislodged or damaged during an incident they are still able to hear sufficiently to keep themselves and their colleagues safe. You should be able to hear normal conversation at a distance of 10 feet (3 metres) without the use of hearing aids.

The eyesight test is carried out with and without glasses or contact lenses if you wear them. You will need a similar standard of vision as you would for driving in the UK.


We test your endurance and agility using a bleep test with a shuttle run between two points. We also test your upper body strength to see if you can hold a 7kg riot shield and grip a piece of equipment.

What happens at the Online Assessment Centre?

The Online Assessment Centre tests to see if you have the abilities, behaviours and strengths required to be a prison officer.

We will send you details about the Online Assessment Centre before you attend. The assessments are designed to reflect the reality of the prison officer role. Therefore, they will contain strong language and cover sensitive topics that could be potentially distressing.

Role plays

You will be asked to take on the role of a prison officer who is interacting with an offender. We’ll look at how you handle different situations that are based upon real challenges that you could face as a prison officer.


The interview looks at your strengths, and what motivates and energises you. You will need to speak and understand fluent English.

Numerical test

We use a short test to confirm you have the basic numerical skills needed to perform your duties as a prison officer. The format is similar to the online test.
We assess whether you can count, add, subtract, multiply and divide. You will also need to work with basic ratios and fractions, extract data from tables and read the time in the 24-hour format.

Reading and writing

We check your writing ability and whether you can use written sources to make effective decisions.
You will need to be able to write in sentences that show a reasonable understanding of grammar.
You will need to read different sources of information and write a summary of what you have read.

Disability support

Tell us if you have a disability when you apply and we can offer reasonable adjustments to help with the online test and assessment centre.

Find out about reasonable adjustments

Job offers

If you are successful at your assessment, any job offer will depend on how the prison is recruiting prison officers.

Next available job

Some prisons advertise ‘pass’ vacancies and make a job offer immediately if there is a position available.

If there are no vacancies, you will be placed on a reserve list until the next available job vacancy.

Your successful pass from assessment day will be valid for 12 months and can be used to apply for vacancies at other prisons.

Merit list

Other prisons have ‘merit’ vacancies. They will create a merit list of successful applicants once everyone has been to the assessment centre.

The prison will then make job offers to the people who performed best at the assessment centre as positions become available.

You can stay on the merit list for 12 months. After this, you’ll need to apply again.