The work prison officers do doesn’t reach the public eye in the same way it does for the police, or fire service.

However, there is currently a major recruitment campaign running at HMP The Mount near Bovingdon.

We spoke to two new recruits who explained why joining the service has been the best thing they have done...

For 29-year-old mother of one Donna Jones, the moment when she knew she needed to be a part of an organisation working to make real difference to people’s lives was when she was driving home from work last Christmas.

Donna was then working in retail when listening to the recruitment advert for the prison service reawakened a desire to change her career path.

Telling her family of her intentions wasn’t easy, said Donna: “My mum went off on one when I told her, but when I explained it all to her she was very supportive - my partner too.”

“I know that being a prison officer is a bit Marmite and not to everyone’s taste, but I knew I had to do this, and for me it is a career for the long term.”

Donna’s fellow new recruit David Howard, 36, was running his own greeting cards business when he began to feel that sitting at a desk wasn’t for him anymore and that he needed a new challenge.

“In my old job I was mainly stuck behind a computer all day, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said David, who has no regrets about the change of career.

A new recruit will undertake the 12-week Prison Officer Entry Level Training course (POELT). The first and final weeks are hosted by the prison they will eventually be working in, with the other 10 weeks being classroom based, combining a mixture of theory and practice. The recruits are continually assessed during the 12-week period.

Donna said: “During the training we had to do role play and I was told I wasn’t assertive enough, which surprised my partner who thinks I’m one of the most assertive people he knows.

“But I wasn’t assertive enough for the role so it was something I had to develop.”

The training and the support doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom to go live on the wing. New recruits are assigned a mentor and experienced staff members are always on hand to advise and answer any questions.

Both Donna and David have been ‘live’ on their respective prison wings at The Mount for just six weeks.

“It has been completely different to what I anticipated, but in a good way,” said Donna. “It was really weird on my first day on the wing, standing on the landing and looking around. I had this moment when I thought ‘this is real now’.

“I was 100 per cent nervous. On my familiarisation day there were only a few people out on the wing, but on my first full day all the prisoners were out. But the training gives you the confidence to deal with it.

“After a few weeks I thought ‘I can do this’.

“I feel like I have settled in and I’m really enjoying it.”

Watford Observer:

For David, going live on the wing was, by and large, what he expected, and despite being very busy, he has loved every minute of it.

“On my first shift I was pretty apprehensive as to what the day might hold. It was a busy time and I was rushed off my feet, but it flew by and at the end of it I had a huge smile on my face.

“To be honest every day is busy, but every day is different. There are so many elements to being a prison officer. It’s quite involved.”

Donna agrees: “It’s a job that requires you to think on your feet, you need to be able to anticipate the questions that a prisoner might ask and have the answers ready.”

It is that variety of tasks and the satisfaction gained in meeting new challenges which ensures that both David and Donna have no regrets about taking this new career path.

“It is definitely a career I would recommend to anyone,” said David. “I’m really looking forward to the future.”

Prison officers have chances for further training and qualifications, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to specialise or progress through the ranks. You can become a dog-handler, family liaison officer, or even go on to lead a prison as a governor.

Since joining the prison service Donna feels she has grown as a person and would recommend wholeheartedly the service to anyone looking for a change of direction who would like to make a valuable contribution to society.

“A career in the prison service would suit someone who is outgoing and good with people. If you are skilled at building up a rapport then that would help you become a good prison officer.”

Having empathy and compassion are also character traits Donna and David believe are needed in the modern prison service. As mentors for offenders, prison officers learn how to engage with and help some of the most vulnerable people in society under challenging circumstances.

David agrees: “It is important to be able to communicate with prisoners and to advise them and point them in the right direction.”

The modern prison service has moved to focus on rehabilitation and prison officers help get to the root cause of offending.

“I didn’t sign up to just to see the guys at their cell doors. The more staff we have the more help we can give them and work towards rehabilitation,” said Donna.

The starting salary for a prison officer is £27,692. Search online for vacancies at

Watford Observer:

HM Prison The Mount in Bovingdon