Most prisons in the UK are severely under-staffed and are slowly becoming unable to operate properly. This is due to many reasons such as:

  • The pay is not suitable to support a family so people do not even think about applying for the job
  • The role isn’t commonly included in the career’s information in many schools around the UK so students are uneducated on the role 
  • Prisons at the minute are the most populated they have ever been so more staff are needed 
  • It’s a very dangerous job so many people will be deterred. 


I interviewed David* who is a recently retired prison officer after serving for 20 years (the last 5 of which in the people hub which is in charge of the prison staffing on a daily basis) to get an inside perspective of it all. 

He spoke about how “during my career I’ve spent most of it at a high security prison which is very staff intensive. Prior to the pandemic it was always a well-staffed prison however in recent years low pay and the loss of experienced staff has left huge short falls in the staff that’s required in a daily basis”.

This will cause many problems as without the correct number of staff many things could go wrong. I asked David what it was like on the days he had little staff, he said “we’ve had days where there isn’t enough staff on duty to fulfil a regime for prisoners to shower, exercise, or eat etc. which means we’ve had to unlock prisoners so everyone can get sorted and help out.” But to make sure they keep everyone safe “as a general rule we never unlock any prisoners/ area without enough staff to keep things under control”. If they do not have enough staff to do this then they perform something called a “controlled unlock” which is where they unlock just a few prisoners at a time to facilitate their requirements such as meals, phone calls, and showers.

Due to David having worked in a Category A high security prison, every staff member will know how to deal with low staff on a daily basis. David said their most likely way to fix that problem would be to “make decisions on that morning in what areas we can and can’t unlock so that both staff and prisoners are safe. In the last 18 months we have resorted to a lock down roater which meant that everybody understood in advance when their area would be locked down. This created more stability within the prison.”

Overall, many prisons are in need of immediate new staff and without the younger generation being aware of the job or anyone being interested, prisons aren’t going to be safe in the future. 

Have you thought about ever going into the prison service? 


*Names changed for privacy reasons.