Prison officer grad scheme expands into the youth prisons

++ Teachers and social workers encouraged to use their experience and apply ++

Following a successful first intake, the new prison officer graduate scheme Unlocked Graduates has announced that it will be expanding into the youth prison estate, offering exceptional graduates and career changers the chance to work with some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

In particular, the scheme will be targeting social workers and teachers to apply. The programme offers a way for these professionals to use their expertise with challenging children by stepping into the role of prison officer – which is the key pastoral support figure for imprisoned children.

Unlocked Graduates is a two-year programme specifically aimed at attracting a different kind of leader to work in prisons and help identify ways to reform the prison system, reduce reoffending and improve rehabilitation.

In its first year it successfully placed 50 graduates into prisons across London and the South East. More than 600 recent graduates and career changers applied for the scheme and underwent a rigorous selection process.

For its second year the scheme will be placing officers into two additional prisons, both in the youth estate. One, STC Medway, is a secure training centre housing boys and girls aged between 12 and 18, and the other, Cookham Wood, houses boys between 15 and 18.

The challenges facing children in custody cannot be overestimated:

  • Almost half of children in custody have been taken into care as a child
  • 86 per cent of children in custody have been expelled from school
  • 40 per cent of children in custody have experienced abuse
  • Between a quarter and a third of young people in custody have a learning disability.

Participants working on the scheme will be given specialised training to address the systemic problems that young people in prison face.  This will form part of their studies for a Master’s degree which they will complete while taking on the full duties of a frontline prison officer and researching new ideas for a policy paper. Unlocked wants to develop these ideas and to identify the best ways to reduce reoffending and share them across the sector.

Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee said:

“The safety and welfare of every young person in custody is our absolute priority and we are clear that more needs to be done to achieve this.

“Just like the adult estate, it is vital that we boost the ratio of staff to young offenders, these newly trained specialist youth justice workers will be equipped to tackle the needs of young offenders.

“I am looking forward to seeing these reforms in action and to seeing how the new Unlocked Graduates can help transform the youth estate.”

Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked Graduates said:

“There is a direct the line from people in prison to those who were failed in childhood – whether by family circumstances, schools or other institutions. Our graduates are already in adult and women’s prisons and the need is even more urgent for young people. I want to encourage experts who have already honed their skills in the community to bring that expertise into the youth prisons estate.

“As a former teacher I’m very aware that it is the children I wasn’t able to reach who were most at risk of ending up in jail. This offers passionate graduates a chance to work with those children who most desperately need them.”