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Criminal justice sector / Prison vetting

Aim of this page

The aim of this information is to outline the vetting process for anybody looking to work in a prison and, how a criminal record may affect your chances of successfully getting security clearance to work in a prison.

It also looks at the other options open to you if you are declined clearance through the usual vetting process.

Why is this important?

It’s important to consider why you would like to work in the Criminal Justice System. Often, people with convictions feel they can ‘give something back’, having had personal experience themselves. Increasingly, organisations working in the CJS are looking to involve people with personal experience, which is obviously a positive thing. However, sometimes people feel it’s the only place where their ‘past’ will be looked at positively.

Some people find it hard to work in the CJS, having been through it personally. They don’t see why they should narrow their opportunities, or have to drag-up their own past in their work. Some people get rail-roaded into working in ‘the system’, without really exploring the opportunities beyond.

Many CJS jobs will involve going into and working in prison and, although organisations will carry out their own pre-employment checks, part of the recruitment process will normally involve individuals being security vetted by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and this can sometimes deter people from applying.

Likewise, the need to go through this type of vetting process can be a major cause for concern for organisations recruiting somebody who has a criminal record with many believing that there is a blanket ban towards people who have a criminal record. There isn’t.

If you’re interested in going into this type of work, you’ll need to be clear about what you need to disclose and, what options may be open to you if you are declined security clearance from NOMS.


It isn’t possible to pre-determine whether you will be given clearance to work in a prison as each case is considered on its own merit. However, people with a criminal record will often have something unique to offer and as well as talent, skills and knowledge, their own personal experience of the criminal justice system will help them in their work.

The role of prison vetting

Anybody applying to work in a prison will require some form of security vetting.

Vetting checks are not required on ad-hoc visitors who go into prison on an occasional basis providing the visitor is escorted at all times by a prison key-holder. However, if you will be visiting a prison regularly (usually after three visits) you will need security clearance.

The levels of vetting

There are approximately seven levels of vetting. Our information will consider the three types which are particularly relevant to paid staff and volunteers working in prison. These are:

  • Enhanced Level 1
  • Disclosure and Barring Service checks
  • Standard Plus vetting

This level of check is the one most often associated with non-directly employed workers. This level of check would be required if you were working in non-high security establishments and have contact with prisoners and access to keys.

As this type of role would be exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act this check will include both spent and unspent cautions and convictions. It’s important therefore that you disclose all cautions and convictions, including those which are spent unless they are eligible for filtering. Failing to disclose a past caution or conviction is likely to result in your clearance being refused.

It may be necessary for applicants in certain job roles to also have a DBS check. This will include anybody who has regular contact with children under the age of 18 and healthcare professionals providing clinical services across the NOMS estate. For further information regarding DBS checks see our guidance on criminal record checks for employment.

What are your chances of success?

Applications are assessed on a case by case basis and it’s difficult therefore to give general guidance about the kinds of offences which result in clearance being refused.

In early 2016 NOMS provided us with some figures which covered vetting applications over a five month period between 14/08/2015 and 26/01/2016. They gave us a breakdown of the number of vetting applications received and the numbers which were approved or declined.

A total of 5843 cases were considered, of which 560 had ‘hits’ on the Police National Computer. 390 applicants passed vetting and 170 failed. This means that 70% of applicants were approved.

What can you do if your application is refused?

If your security vetting is refused then providing your work is involved in the delivery of rehabilitation activities for prisons or service providers, then you may be able to apply for Standard Plus security vetting if your employer is happy to support you.

Standard Plus vetting

What is Standard Plus?

It has been recognised that individuals who have successfully desisted after a history of offending can set powerful examples and Standard Plus vetting was introduced to assist this group of people to work in prison even if they fail to obtain the ‘normal’ level of clearance.

Standard Plus vetting was developed to capture:

  • People with criminal records and ‘offenders on post release licence’
  • Those fulfilling a role where they work regularly in a prison
  • Those delivering work focused on rehabilitation

It’s purpose is to improve and provide opportunities for workers/volunteers with previous criminal convictions to work with organisations and prisoners without increasing risks and compromising safety and security.

For the purpose of Standard Plus security vetting ‘ex-offenders’ are defined as individuals whose community/suspended sentence order, licence or post sentence supervision has been successfully completed and there is no longer a right to recall. People on licence may only be considered for Standard Plus vetting after they have successfully completed an initial period on licence within the community. (This initial period would be at least half the licence element of the sentence for those who have received custodial sentences or at least half of the community order for those in the community).

Standard Plus vetting is restricted on two counts:

  1. It will only last for 12 months after which the position will need to be reviewed and renewed if appropriate
  2. A separate application is required for each individual prison that you wish to work in.

Sentences for certain offences will only be considered for Standard Plus vetting in exceptional circumstances. These include:

  • Offences relating to terrorism
  • Offences relating to children
  • Racially/religiously aggravated offences
  • Supply of controlled drugs offences
  • Violent and/or serious offences
  • Sexual offences

If your offence relates to any of the above, then you will need to be supported by the organisation you are working for who will have to outline a business case setting out the benefit to them of employing you.

How do you make an application for Standard Plus?

For any prison based role, the Governor of the prison has to agree to consider a Standard Plus application.

The Approvals and Compliance Team at NOMS will provide the Governor with details of your criminal record and any other information which will assist them in carrying out a risk assessment.

The Governor is responsible for approving or declining Standard Plus vetting. If approved, your vetting record will be updated accordingly.

What are your chances of getting Standard Plus vetting clearance?

NOMS have provided us with a breakdown of Standard Plus vetting applications from January 2015 to January 2016. The following results were highlighted:


(** This may be due to the Government declining the application, the application being terminated after no response being received from the establishment or the applicant not being in scope).

What can you do if your application is refused?

If your Standard Plus application is refused by the Prison Governor, the organisation you are working for can, request in writing, a review of the decision. Any review that can’t be resolved can then be considered independently by the relevant Deputy Director of Custody who is responsible for that particular region. The decision of the Deputy Director is final.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

If you are seeking work in this field then listed below are some places to look for suitable vacancies.

  • Clinks have a job vacancies page which primarily have opportunities with small and medium sized charities and voluntary sector organisations
  • The Guardian has a specific section for criminal justice jobs

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on employment
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in January 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to or completing a feedback form.



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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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