News

Unlocked Graduates believes that to change prisons we need brilliant new prison officers and a greater public understanding of the challenges of this role. We want to talk about our work.

The Times: Can Unlocked, a new fast-track scheme that turns Britain’s brightest graduates into prison officers, really make a difference?

Rachel Sylvester of The Times visited HMP High Down to talk to a group of our pioneering prison officers working there, arguing that their arrival “could be the start of a revolution that will change the face of the criminal justice system:”

Scarlett is an intelligent and articulate law graduate who got a good degree from a prestigious university where she was president of the Law Society – but instead of applying for the Bar or pursuing a career with a top City law firm, she decided to become a prison officer. Her family were shocked – “Horrified was the exact word my mum used; she was worried about the danger,” the 21-year-old says. Her friends were also stunned by her unorthodox choice, but now they want to hear every detail of her job, which is far more exciting than their own. “They see the difference I’m making and realise that is why I want to be there.”

When she arrived seven months ago at HMP High Down, a local category B men’s jail in Surrey, it was in the grip of a Spice – synthetic marijuana – epidemic. Although the 1,200-unit prison is rapidly improving, under an impressive new female governor, there are frequent incidents of self-harm and violence. One inmate recently started a fire in his cell. “We’re trained for the worst-case scenario but I’ve only seen prisoners jumping up on the netting once,” Scarlett says. “Humour is everything in this job, de-escalating and building relationships. When it comes to preventing self-harm, prisoners will be able to open up to you if you’ve asked about their family or can have a laugh with them. They see you as a human being and you treat them as such. You think it’s all going to be aggression and action but actually it’s all about talking.”

Source: The Times
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Conference visit – “Best Practice in Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System”

Unlocked Graduate Scarlett blogs about a recent academic conference she attended:

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a conference on ‘Best Practice in Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System,’ hosted by the Centre for Mental Health. This piece cannot do all of the many brilliant speakers justice, but here are some insights from the day – ones which really stood out to me as a Prison Officer.

This focus is particularly important because I was immediately struck by the fact that I was the only Prison Officer at the conference. I was fortunate enough to have been able to book annual leave to be there (which is often tricky for prison staff!), and to have my ticket paid for by the amazing Unlocked Participant Development Fund. The many thought-provoking points made during this day-long conference re-affirmed my belief in how vital it is that we make frontline staff a part of academic debate that can affect change.

Read more Conference visit – “Best Practice in Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System”

Brand Manager Interview: Cherilyn

Cherilyn is in her final year at The University of Warwick studying International Business with French. She wanted to apply to the Unlocked Graduate scheme and thought the Brand Manager role was a good way to learn more about the organisation, the mission statement and recruitment process. Cherilyn has now been accepted onto the Unlocked Graduates’ 2018 cohort and will start her job as a prison officer in September.

Why did you want to work for Unlocked Graduates?

I was originally motivated to apply to Unlocked Graduates because it’s such a unique opportunity – you get the chance to make a difference in the role which is so different to other schemes. You also study for a fully-funded Master’s and contribute to a policy paper. I’ve always wanted to drive change but it’s difficult to find a graduate programme that allows you to have such a massive impact.

In my role as a Brand Manager I was hoping to find out more about the organisation; I thought the mission statement was absolutely incredible – the dedication to reducing reoffending is so important.

Read more Brand Manager Interview: Cherilyn

Unlocked Graduates launches 2018 Cohort

Successful applicants gather in London to learn more about the Unlocked Graduates programme:

On Saturday 10th April Unlocked Graduates hosted our second annual Cohort Launch Event in central London. Following months of applications and assessments, the event brought together most of the new participants who will make up our second cohort of pioneering prison officers. It was a chance to get excited about the opportunities and challenges they will take on if they successfully complete the programme.

Natasha Porter, founder and CEO of Unlocked Graduates, kicked off the day by setting out those challenges. Prisons across the country are, despite the best efforts of those who work there, struggling to offer rehabilitation. Not only are reoffending rates high, but those who offend often have multiple complex issues that frequently aren’t addressed. As Natasha made clear, it was precisely this situation that brought the audience to the room that day: “The problems in prisons are now your problems – your problems to help fix.”

Read more Unlocked Graduates launches 2018 Cohort

The Print: A Baptism of Fire for the Millennial Generation

Queen Mary University of London’s student newspaper The Print interviewed Unlocked Graduates CEO Natasha Porter about the programme, and Imani about her experiences as a frontline prison officer:

Whilst considering the economic and existential dread of a post-university life, the opportunity to work in a prison is not at the forefront of students’ minds. One Reform League recently deemed prisons, ‘a bloodbath of assaults, suicides and self-harm’, whilst in 2016, there were 65 assaults in prisons on both inmates and staff per day.

Yet, according to charitably funded Unlocked Graduates, the answer to this crisis is young and educated graduates, such as ourselves. With recruitment critically low and the need for effective reform becoming more apparent everyday, Unlocked offers a two-year graduate scheme that will throw our schooled and skilled selves into the heart of the crisis as Band 3 prison officers. Whether we’re willing to answer the call is another question.

The problem must be solved somehow. Natasha Porter, Unlocked’s CEO, told The Print: “You never get somewhere that has this many socioeconomic disadvantages in one location”. Over half of the people entering prison have the literacy skills of an eleven-year-old, 49% of the women and 23% of the men are diagnosed as anxious and depressed, almost a quarter of adult prisoners have been in care at some point in their lives, and 44% of adult prisoners reoffend within only one year of release.

Source: The Print
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Conference visit – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference”

Unlocked Graduate Mollie blogs about a recent academic conference she attended:

I was given the opportunity by Unlocked Graduates to attend a recent conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference” – on the 21-22 March 2018 in Oxford.

It very quickly became clear that I was the only person out of the many, many people at the conference who did NOT have a PhD or 20+ years of experience in a field. Despite this being intimidating, it was very inspirational for me to meet numerous people who have achieved a lot and contributed so much to the world that I am only just entering.

Read more Conference visit – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference”

Schools Week: Natasha Porter, CEO, Unlocked Graduates

Schools Week profiles Unlocked Graduates CEO Natasha Porter, examining how her experiences in teaching led her to the world of prison reform:

Teach First is spawning. First there was Frontline, which applied the model to social care, and Think Ahead, focusing on mental health. Then came Police Now.

The latest spin-off to get off the ground is Unlocked Graduates, which aims to train up the “brightest, smartest” graduates to work as prison officers for two years, during which time they write a dissertation, gain a masters and pump out a slew of new prison policy ideas.

The charity doesn’t waste energy trying to persuade recruits to stay for longer, however. In fact, it positively wants some to leave.

“It sounds very counterintuitive,” explains CEO Natasha Porter, “but actually what we need are people across society advocating for the prison service.”

Source: Schools Week
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Russell Webster: Unlocked Graduates on the prison wing

Russell Webster interviewed Unlocked CEO Natasha Porter about the programme, and Scarlett about her first 100 days as prison officer:

It’s hard to believe only a year ago we were still finalising the battle to bring Unlocked into existence. The programme was a recommendation of the Coates Review of prison education. Both Dame Sally Coates and I were struck by the need to bring education into the heart of every prison, and recognised from our own professional experience that the best way to drive any initiative or culture shift is through those on the front line.

What makes this particularly challenging in a prison setting is the low status of the prison officer job, and the invisibility of the service, particularly with those in positions of power across society. I went through the Teach First programme myself where we tried to get top graduates to consider a job that was not previously on their radar. A similar model for the prison service seemed like an obvious way to start.

It was a genuine experiment. Other graduate schemes for teaching and social work focus on careers that have always been seen as ‘graduate’ professions. And a similar programme for the police, which is historically a non-graduate and uniformed profession, found that the police has always had good standing on campus. This is not true for the job of prison officer.

We wanted the prison officer role to have a similar status to these other challenging public service positions. Not that everyone who does the job needs to be or should be a graduate but, especially given the complexity and importance of the job, it should be viewed as the kind of role that graduate should consider alongside consulting or teaching or accountancy.

Source: Russell Webster
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Lords get Unlocked in Parliament

Celebration of pioneer Graduates as Unlocked comes up to one year celebration 

We were delighted to be hosted by Lord McNally for a reception at the House of Lords today, showcasing some early success stories from our first cohort of Unlocked Graduates.

There was a great turnout of both Lords and MPs from across the political spectrum, as well as supporters who have worked with Unlocked Graduates throughout our first year – from the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS to the wider criminal justice sector.

Read more Lords get Unlocked in Parliament