A recruitment campaign for new prison officers has been launched.
Up to 200 custody officers will be enlisted alongside a major redundancy scheme in an effort to bring in fresh faces following calls for reform. Catholics and women are particularly encouraged to apply.
Prison Service director general Colin McConnell said it was a milestone.
"The case for fundamental reform of the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been made in successive reports and the challenge to deliver those reforms has been accepted by management and Justice Minister David Ford," he said.
"Refreshing the workforce is a central part of the reform agenda and with staff leaving through the current exit scheme, it provides the opportunity to introduce new recruits into the Prison Service."
Nationalists have called for a Patten-style overhaul of the service to encourage more Catholics to join. During the troubles many prison warders were Protestants and the service was focused on dealing with paramilitaries.
A total of 371 staff have so far applied for the enhanced payouts which are part of a major overhaul of the prison service aimed at modernising and streamlining Northern Ireland's jails.
Stormont Justice Committee members raised questions when they were told there was nothing to prevent the same staff applying to rejoin the service. The deadline for redundancy applications is this week.
The prison service, shaped by the decades of violence, has long been accused of falling short of the needs of the 21st century and the staff shake-up has been billed as a key element of the process of reform.
Mr McConnell, drafted in from Great Britain to oversee the transformation following a series of critical reports into work practices at Northern Ireland's jails, said new custody officers on up to £23,000 a year will maintain a safe, decent and secure environment, ensuring daily routines operate smoothly and effectively.