PRISON officers come from all walks of life- we spoke to Gareth Sands, governor of HMP Hewell in Redditch to find out more about the work they do and what it’s like to work there.

Gareth has been in the Prison Service for 20 years. He considers it “a vocation and compassion”. He was attracted to the work as he had always wanted to help socially-excluded individuals.

Prior to taking up his first prison job as a prison officer, he worked for Christian charity The Shaftesbury Society, which works with adults with mental issues.

He said: “I joined 20 years ago. I was 26 when I joined.”

“I had always been interested in socially-excluded individuals. That was the thing that interested me. Dealing with people who were on the edge of society.”

Those who work as prison officers get the chance to help the lives of inmates in many ways. Much of their work is about mentoring offenders in prison, preparing them to re-enter society.

Gareth says important qualities for a prison officer include empathy, compassion, flexibility, discipline, strong work ethic and a sound moral compass.

For him it’s “a significant role,” about so much more than simply discipline.

A good prison officer can tackle the root causes behind crime, helping to break the cycle.

“They can help them to start to address issues that are causing them to re-offend,” he said.

“When they’ve got the time they can motivate them to engage in services.

“They can encourage them to engage with their families.”

“It’s a significant role really. You’ve got this fine balance between discipline and engagement with coaching.”

With the right skills and approach, prison officers can help inspire to equip themselves with the training and outlook needed to return and reintegrate into society.

What does it take to be a successful prison officer?

It’s not surprising that this work requires a lot of team work and support from colleagues to succeed - working together well is an important part of being a prison officer, and often a reason why many find the job fulfilling.

Charities also support prison officers in their work. Samaritans and Clink help to reduce support offenders in their mental health and re-offending by addressing the causes of antisocial behaviour.

Working as a prison officer is a demanding role and requires a lot of resilience.

While Gareth said “there is no typical prison day”, but there are several regular activities a prison officer is expected to carry out.

Responsibilities range from unlocking offenders in the morning and engaging with them throughout the day: “Searching, challenging, answering questions. Looking for signs of drug taking. Challenging unsociable behaviour.”

How have Gareth’s family and friends reacted to his choice of career?

He makes sure they know he is in the prison service to change lives for the better.

“They understand it is a vocation and compassion.”

“You are dealing with some of society’s most difficult and challenging individuals. We put them all together and try to manage them.”

Career, training and progression training and progression opportunities mean that the prison service can provide a fulfilling, long-term career. Every new prison officer undergoes training to prepare them for the job and there are opportunities for further training for progression and specialisation after that.

Gareth studied for a Masters in Criminology and Management at Cambridge University once he joined the Prison Service.

He added: “Within the job you can do diplomas, you can do a degree. There are ways of doing that.”

Gareth said a prison officer never stops learning.

“Nothing can fully prepare you for working in prison,” he said, adding as a parent “just like nothing can prepare you for having children.”

HMP Hewell: Recruiting now

Over the next year HMP Hewell is recruiting approximately 100 staff, across lots of areas.

Gareth said: “There are always vacancies and always opportunities, depending on how flexible you are and where you are prepared to travel to, or how much you are prepared to commit to progressing.

Those who take a position at HM Prison Hewell can expect a staff gymnasium and free parking, as well as uniforms and lockers.

A new bistro café for staff will also open later this year. HM Prison Service has staff members from all walks of life.

How does the job compare with conventional office work?

“It is very operational, very front-facing and very challenging,” Gareth said.

“It is very people focussed.”

He said you “very much” have to be a people person to excel at the job.

With the focus on rehabilitation, rather than simply discipline, prison officers come from all backgrounds.

Office or retail staff members frequently decide they want a career U-turn and the chance to really help others.

“People are coming in from all walks of life. All ages,” Gareth said.

Gareth added: “Speaking to some recent recruits they just love it. They have fallen in love with the job.”

If you’re interested in working as a prison officer, visit and search for vacancies now.