New scheme unveiled to attract top graduates to become prison officers

The Secretary of State for Justice backs Unlocked’s mission to raise the status of prison officers and to bring down reoffending rates.

Prison officers are the unsung heroes of the public sector and society should value the incredibly challenging and complex nature of their job, according to Unlocked, an independent charity which is launching a new scheme to encourage high-flying graduates to join the prison service.

The new, two year scheme will be unveiled today with the backing of The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, the Secretary of State for Justice. Participants will complete a master’s degree while working on the front line alongside existing prison officers. Participants will be selected on the basis of not only their academic credentials, but also their leadership and communications skills. Existing prison officers will act as mentors for the participants.

On completion of the two years, participants will either continue to work in the prison service or use their experience to join other public sector organisations or the private sector. A number of companies including the Civil Service Fast Stream, Ernst & Young, PWC and Teach First have already lent their support to the scheme. Unlocked hopes that the scheme’s participants will become ambassadors for the programme, encouraging employers to take on more ex-offenders to help reduce reoffending.

The scheme will seek to replicate other successful public sector recruitment initiatives such as Teach First and Frontline, which target graduates to become teachers and social workers respectively. The application process will open on 9th January and the first set of 45 graduates will start work in prisons in August, following an intensive assessment programme and training scheme during the summer.

Participants will be paid the same entry-level salary as every other prison officer. The names of the prisons will be published in the new year – they will be either Category B or Category C institutions.

Unlocked is supported in its incubation stage by Catch22, the social business, so that it can become a successful independent organisation.

Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked, said:

“Prison officers are too often seen as ‘turn-keys’. The opposite is true. They deal with some of the most challenging situations and work with some of the most vulnerable people in society. They are effectively mentors, counsellors, teachers, police officers and social workers.

“The aim of Unlocked is to help raise the status of the profession and to help reduce reoffending. While many of the scheme’s participants will stay and develop long term roles within the prison system, others will go into the outside world and act as ambassadors to drive forward rehabilitation. The skills they will learn working in such a challenging environment will make them a valuable asset for any organisation.”

Justice Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said:

“Prison officers are some of our finest public servants.
“It is a unique role, which is both challenging and rewarding. There are very few jobs where you genuinely get the opportunity to reform and transform the lives of offenders, and the lives of their families, creating a safer society.

“I want to ensure that we attract the most talented and dedicated individuals, from the widest possible pool, and I want to see improved promotion and leadership opportunities for all our prison staff. Our officers play a crucial role in implementing our ambitious prison reform programme.”

Emily Thomas, Governor, HMP Isis, said:

“Prison officers do an amazing and vital job which is often unseen by the public. I am really excited by the idea of more graduates joining the service both to gain some great experience as officers and potentially to go on to be the future leaders of the service.