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.

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.

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Cells locked-up thanks to one of our supporters

Our first participants will soon be marking 100 days as prison officers so it’s a good opportunity to look back and remember supporters who have helped make it possible for us to equip our participants with the skills they need to make a difference in the prison services.

One of the most unusual offers of help came from Safestore Self Storage in Chiswick who kindly donated free storage space for our temporary training prison cells.

Critical to our training approach is giving our trainees every chance to practice key skills in as realistic a setting as possible. These cells sat in the back of every classroom to help our participants learn how to enter and carry out cell searches. Finding the space for three flat-pack prison cells was no small matter so this was an incredibly generous offer!

The Store Manager kindly removed part of the front of the unit to allow us to get the cells in.  Dan Joslyn, Store Manager at Chiswick said:

“We’re happy to be able to support the work that Unlocked Graduates do to tackle the damage and cost of prisoner reoffending. They offer such a great programme in training talented graduates to become prison officers.

“As a company, Safestore are constantly looking to support charities in the best way possible and we hope that the space will enable the charity to focus on their core activities without the added storage costs.”

Guardian: ‘People think we just turn keys and shout orders’

Guardian journalist Amelia Hill interviewed several Unlocked Graduates, members of the justice system, and Unlocked CEO Natasha Porter to get an insight into the programme.

These are volatile times for prisons in England and Wales, with overcrowding and record levels of violence. Can a new scheme that aims to do what Teach First did in schools change things from the inside?

Jack has been at Brixton for just two months. During that time, he has been the subject of prisoners’ aggression and violence although, he hastens to add, the violence has always been at a low level – “so far, anyway”. He has begun to win the trust and respect of the men in the prison and, he hopes, he will go on to make a real difference to their lives.

“I love my job,” he grins, as he strides through the corridors, locking and unlocking doors every few paces with the enormous bunch of keys hanging from his belt. “I thought I’d find it fascinating, but I actually love it.

Source: The Guardian
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BBC: The graduates trying to solve the prison crisis in England and Wales

BBC Radio 1 visited HMP Brixton and spoke to several Unlocked Graduates about their experiences so far on the programme.

Winnie is one of 50 graduates who’ve been put in prisons across England and Wales to help save the system.

It’s hoped trainees from the new government scheme will help boost numbers in the profession and cut reoffending.

Source BBC Radio 1
Listen to the programme (from 5.45)
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Children & Young People Now: Youth prison officer recruitment drive targets social workers

Children & Young People Now interviewed Unlocked CEO Natasha Porter about the aims of the programme, and plans for future expansion:

A prison officer graduate recruitment scheme is expanding into the youth secure estate, targeting social workers and teachers looking for a change of career.

The Unlocked Graduates scheme already offers graduates a two-year master’s degree to become a prison officer in adult settings and has announced this will be extended into youth prisons.

Unlocked said it is keen to attract social workers and teachers with experience of supporting challenging children to the scheme. It said the aim of the initiative is to improve support for vulnerable young people held in custody, reduce reoffending, and improve rehabilitation.

Source: Children & Young People Now
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TES: Teachers encouraged to retrain as prison officers

The Times Educational Supplement had an exclusive look at how Unlocked Graduates are encouraging teachers to join the scheme, highlighting the specific skills they have that would transfer well to being a prison officer:

New charity sees itself as the ‘Teach First for prisons’ and is calling on overworked school staff to consider a switch.

A new charity has a bold proposition for teachers looking to cut their working hours but still do something socially meaningful.

The charity, Unlocked Graduates, is looking for talented graduates and career-switchers – particularly teachers – to train to be prison officers.