The application process

1. Apply online (10 minutes)

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.

What you will need:

  • – National Insurance number

2. Online tests (35 minutes)

You will be sent two tests – the scenario-based test presenting you with different situations you might face as a prison officer, and the numerical test.

We use these 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 test.

If you are successful, we will invite you to the Assessment & Recruitment Centre (ARC).

3. Assessment centre (1/2 day)

We test to see if you have the abilities, behaviours, strengths and fitness to be a prison officer.

We also carry out an eyesight test and basic health screening, including blood pressure check.

We will give you more information before the Assessment & Recruitment Centre (ARC) about what to expect and bring on the day.

4. Background checks (12+ weeks)

If the prison officer position is available immediately, we will carry out checks including security, identity, past employment and health.

If a position is not available, you will be put on a merit list. We only begin the background checks when there is a vacancy for you.

5. Prison tour (if offered)

A visit to familiarise yourself with the prison is part of the application process for some prisons. Other prisons may offer a visit so you can get to know your work environment.

The visit is a great chance to meet serving prison officers and see what it’s like to work in the prison.

Find out more about prison categories

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 have good eyesight

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

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
  • commitment to quality
  • effective decision-making
  • care and understanding

Get ready for the online tests

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

During the online tests 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

Test how you would handle prison situations

Take the practice numerical test

How to do well on your assessment centre

We will send you details about the Assessment & Recruitment Centre (ARC) before you go. We test whether you have the abilities, behaviours, strengths and fitness for the job.

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 clear, legible handwriting and 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.

Health check

A trained nurse 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.

We also test your eyesight, 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.

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 the Assessment & Recruitment Centre (ARC), 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.