Many prison services find it difficult to recruit the right personnel (of a high quality and sufficient diversity). This can be for a variety of reasons including unattractive conditions of employment, difficult working environment, low social status and competition from other government agencies. This can result in problems such as reduced performance and increased turnover and absenteeism. An inadequate staff/detainee ratio can make it more difficult for staff to carry out their functions and lead to an insecure environment within the prison. Prison services should therefore have a policy that proactively seeks to attract suitable applicants.
To recruit the right staff, prisons systems need to develop a clear idea about the type of persons they want to attract and employ. International and regional standards provide that prison staff should have civilian status and should not be drawn from police or military institutions. Women should have equal opportunities to work in prisons as men.
Working in prisons is a complex job and requires a variety of attributes and skills. For prison officers, who come into direct contact with detainees on a day to day basis, particular emphasis should be placed on:
1.The personal character of the applicant, including the attributes of integrity, humanity and respect for diversity;
2. Interpersonal communications skills including the ability to build positive relationships, diffuse tensions and deal with difficult situations; and
3. A minimum level of education.
In the recruitment process for prison officers, it is important to make sure that candidates respect diversity and have a non-discriminatory approach to persons in situations of vulnerability with whom they will work in the prison. These groups may include: women, children, foreign nationals, ethnic minorities, LGBTI persons, and persons with disabilities.
Working with juveniles deprived of their liberty is a challenging task which requires specific skills and personal attributes. Recruitment processes for centres where juveniles are detained should seek to carefully select staff: with personal maturity and ability to cope with the challenges of working with - and safeguarding the welfare of – juveniles; who are committed to working with young people, and capable of guiding and motivating the juveniles in their charge; and of mixed gender, as the presence of both men and women staff can have a positive effect on the environment in detention centres for juveniles.
To attract suitable candidates, prison systems need to disseminate information clearly setting out the nature of prison officer work, the attributes and skills required as well as the organisation values which staff are expected to respect and apply. This information should be included in a job description for each role. Specific outreach activities may be necessary to attract staff from minority groups, such as making local contacts and actively advertising at community events. More generally, it is important for prison systems to raise public awareness of the nature of prison work and that it is a social service of great importance.
Recruitment for prisons may be conducted by a national prison authority (enabling the maintenance of national standards) or locally by prison or prison cluster. The latter can often respond better to staffing needs but may have access to a more limited pool of candidates. It is not recommended that staff be involuntarily drafted to duty as prison officers from other agencies, as this can have a negative impact on motivation.
The selection process should be open and transparent, with clear criteria for assessment. It should be carried out by trained recruiters according to tested methods, which are regularly reviewed and adjusted (these may for example include role plays and psychometric tests). It should include testing the personal attributes of candidates including their integrity and humanity, and respect for diversity. A candidate’s readiness to pursue professional training should also be ascertained.
Recruitment policies and procedures should seek to attract a more diverse range of applicants and ultimately to ensure diversity among the prison staff that is representative of the population in the country and the prison. This can have positive impact on communication and cooperation between staff and detainees within the prison. Efforts should be made to ensure that as a group, prison staff have the skills to communicate in the different languages spoken in the prison population.
There should be no discrimination in the recruitment of prison staff. It is recommendable for prisons to have a posted equality and non-discrimination policy which applies to recruitment. Women and persons from minority groups should be given the same opportunities as others to work in prisons.
In some contexts, there is a mistaken perception that women are unable to perform prison officer work to the same standard as men. This can lead to women being overlooked in recruitment or limited to non-custodial roles. However, it is recognised that women are able to carry out prison work just as well as men and mixed gender staffing can have a positive effect on the custodial ethos and bring a degree of normality to prison life.
The recruitment process can be used to identify the appropriate placement of new staff, according to their skills, experience and interest. The experiences of new recruits in their initial placement are significant in shaping their views of their role, the prison and detainees. First placements should therefore be used constructively as an important step in the professional development of competent prison staff. In some contexts, new officers are deliberately placed in some of the most difficult roles or shifts in a prison, in order to socialise them in to the negative aspects of prison culture – this practice should be strictly avoided.