Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 12:47 UK

Graduates running prisons: Your comments

Officer through bars

What makes a good prison officer, a university degree or life experience? With calls for officers to be educated to degree level, prison warders tell the BBC news website about what really works behind bars.


Women's prison

I have been a prison officer for fifteen years and I do have a degree. However, I have found that the most skilled officers that I have had the privilege of working alongside do not have degrees but have priceless life skills. These skills can not be taught at the age most students go to university but throughout someone's whole life. The morals, values, beliefs and resilience that are taught at an early stage in life are the skills of a good prison officer, along with common sense and a good sense of humour that only life experience can give you, not three years at a university. Natasha, Suffolk

The reason I was a good prison officer was the fact I listened to inmates and understood what they were saying
Nigel, London

I worked in the prison service for over fourteen years. When I retired I was a Principal Officer. I joined after I left the army and I was attracted to a uniformed organisation. My experience in diffusing difficult situations really helped, but most of all the reason I was a good prison officer was the fact I listened to inmates and understood what they were saying.

I worked with officers who were degree educated, some were good some not so good. I firmly believe that the best officers have a sense of humour, life experience, patience and an ability to listen and understand what is being said. You can't learn that at university. Nigel, London

Lock up

As a prison officer I'm just amazed at how naive the Howard League for Penal Reform is. I am also somewhat offended to be called barely skilled or literate. Would I consider going to university? Well a degree will be a whole lot of help when breaking up a fight between prisoners, removing a ligature from a suicidal prisoner or intercepting drugs coming into a prison (all this happened in Tuesday's 11 hour shift).

We also provide an awful lot of the soft skills. We represent someone to talk to about home, a shoulder to cry on and someone to have a bit of banter with to lighten the mood. We often provide a moral compass and a sense of decency and self-worth. Lots of officers already have degrees, but let's not forget that prisoners often (but not always) come from rough backgrounds. Would an Oxbridge graduate always understand that? You can't learn about my job in the classroom - only on the landings. Anonymous prison officer, London

I have a degree but it doesn't help me when a prisoner is trying to assault me
Sally, Essex

I have been a prison officer for 18 years working in every type of prison. Whilst a degree may be advantageous to an individual who may wish to climb the promotion ladder, for the officer who works at ground level dealing face to face with some very dangerous and unpredictable people I feel that common sense and a good social understanding would be more useful than academic qualifications. Mike, Liverpool

Officer locks door

I have a degree but it doesn't help me when a prisoner is trying to assault me. We have many skills which only come with life experience. A lack of a degree won't help to reduce re-offending but the government putting in resources and funding will. We are a service that receives little attention or recognition for all the hard work we do. The media is quick to criticise us when something goes wrong, but it doesn't praise us for the thousands of lives we save each day. Sally, Essex


I'm educated to A-level standard and find that it has little bearing on my ability to perform as a prison officer. It all comes down to your interpersonal skills and ability to cope in what can be very stressful situations. Being educated to degree level, even in a subject as relevant as criminology, will not change the way you are able to cope with prisoners. This comes from years of experience and the right training and support on the job. Closing the job off to potentially excellent officers due to their level of education would not benefit the prison service. Gareth, Middlesex

Prison cell

I worked in the prison service for ten years. I have no education past my GCSEs but while I was there I completed an NVQ Level three in custodial care. In my experience it was common sense, empathy, awareness of your environment and a genuine desire to make a difference that were essential to be a good officer. As of yet, I am not aware of any university courses based on those qualities. In fact those people who had not enjoyed the same education as those with a degree, were a little more worldly-wise and thus less likely to have wool pulled over their eyes. It's hard to relate to people who live by street rules if you have no understanding whatsoever.
Davey, Manchester

I have been a prison officer for approximately nine years. We do not need a degree. We need a good sense of humour, be able to be assertive and fair and also have a strong stomach. Most people who have degrees have never dealt with violence. If you put them in an environment where violence is common, which degree can help with that?
Steve, Stoke-on-Trent:

I currently work as a unified grade in the prison service. I have a masters degree which I funded myself before joining the service. However, this only gave me the theory behind the criminal justice system. I rely on my strong interpersonal skills to work with a diversity of offenders and multi agencies. The service is relying more on computer systems and there is a need to have middle and senior managers trained in business and budgeting, as well as the interpersonal skills and ability to diffuse violent situations. I welcome any funding for further and higher education within the service. I feel the prison service is often over looked regarding the intense work we do, and I have seen more mentally ill offenders coming into prison, which we have no training or qualifications to deal with, but we manage, even though it is very intense and very stressful.
Michelle, London

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific