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Understanding the retention factors of prison officers within His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)

Tamara Hoefer (University of Suffolk, Ipswich, UK)
Laura Polley (School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Suffolk, Ipswich, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 26 February 2024

Issue publication date: 4 March 2024




Avoidable voluntary turnover negatively impacts an organisation’s workforce and decreases its sustainability and productivity. His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service’s (HMPPS) leaving rates are among the highest in the public sector. The purpose of this study is, thus, to support HMPPS in improving Band 3 prison officers’ (POs) retention and in developing an effective employee retention strategy.


Grounded in retention literature, the present study uses a mixed-methods, cross-sectional, phenomenological research design. Primary data was gathered using an online qualitative survey, which was sent to POs working at a public sector prison in the Northwest of England with less than five years of work experience.


The results highlight the impact of career development and training and development due to their importance to POs in comparison to the POs’ dissatisfaction with HMPPS’ performance in both factors. Furthermore, most expectations of retention factors were only partially met, illustrating the need to reform the existing recruitment process and the translation of expectations into the reality of the role. In conclusion, HMPPS should focus attention on performance-improvement, especially in relation to career development and training and development, as well as investigating and reforming the current recruitment processes.

Practical implications

Recommendations to improve the retention of POs include the improved management of career plans, an increased selection of managers based on their management abilities, increasing training opportunities and equating staff's access to them, and evaluating the effect of payment boosts.


The role of POs and their professional environment has not previously been combined with contemporary retention literature. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this research paper is the first of its kind using qualitative data to understand retention in the English and Welsh prison service.



The authors thank the Unlocked Graduates Programme and HMPPS in creating and supporting this research opportunity.

Since submission of this article, the following author has updated their affiliation: Tamara Hoefer is an Independent Researcher at the Vienna, Austria.


Hoefer, T. and Polley, L. (2024), "Understanding the retention factors of prison officers within His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 95-108.



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