All posts by Maria Donovan

Runners from Unlocked Graduates and Clifford Chance take part in iconic half marathon in London

Team Unlocked takes part in London Landmarks Half Marathon

On 24th March Unlocked Graduates took part in the London Landmarks Half Marathon. Our pioneering prison officers joined trainees from Clifford Chance to raise money for our work tackling prisoner reoffending rates. Sporting their Unlocked Graduate running vests, our team of 25 runners championed the importance of the prison officer role officers while raising money for a very important cause.

Over a 13.1 mile course they passed 12 key London landmarks including the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London and Big Ben. The team joined 13,000 runners on the day and were cheered on by staff from Unlocked HQ.

Along with the team from Clifford Chance they – literally – went the extra mile and raised over £6000 for our  work in prison. Congratulations to everyone who took part, and thank you to everyone who donated!

Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners, interviewed three new participants

Inside Time: Unlocking the future

Inside Time interviewed three new prison officers on the Unlocked Graduates leadership development programme:


I graduated from university last year after following a very traditional education and getting a degree in psychology. When I came to the end of my degree, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do; I was not sure if I wanted to stay on to do a Masters or to leave university. Whilst at university I volunteered with PACT at a local prison and spent a lot of time working in the visits hall. I was interested in criminal justice but didn’t know where, but working with PACT meant I was comfortable with the prison environment.

I heard about Unlocked Graduates last January, I looked at other things as well, such as teaching, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. As I searched, Unlocked Graduates kept popping up, so I went onto the website and had a look, and as soon as I saw it I knew that it was something I would be interested in doing. The whole package was fantastic – working, getting paid, and getting your Masters. From my previous experience with PACT I was pretty sure I would be comfortable working in a prison.

Source: Inside Time
Read the full article

Unlocked Graduates triumph as 'Graduate Scheme of the Year' at 2018 Personnel Today Awards

Unlocked Graduates win grad scheme of the year

Unlocked Graduates won ‘Graduate Scheme of the Year‘ at the 2018 Personnel Today Awards, beating out other nominees including Savills, Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation for the honour.

Chosen by a panel of experts, the awards celebrate the most innovative achievements in recruitment and personnel management so are proof of the outstanding opportunities and support that participants can expect on the scheme.

Sarah Pearson, External Relations Director at Unlocked, commented:

“We couldn’t be prouder to have won such a prestigious prize. Being chosen as the Graduate Scheme of the Year by leading industry professionals sends a clear message that we and the job of prison officer is now competing with the best graduate roles.”

New giant steady hand buzzer games tests calm under pressure

#UnlockedBuzz Comes to Campus!

Have you got the steady nerves needed to unlock your potential?

Reckon you’re better under pressure than your friends? Then join Unlocked Graduates to try your hand at #UnlockedBuzz!

Our #UnlockedBuzz machine is a classic steady hand buzzer game – but bigger and better than you’ve seen before! Have a go at getting the key around the lock without touching the wire to be in with a chance of winning a pair of Beats headphones.

At Unlocked Graduates, one of the key attributes we’re looking for is resilience – the ability to keep your cool no matter what life throws at you – and our buzzer game is a fun way of testing your calm under pressure. We’ll be on campus on the following dates:

Aston University (13/11/18)
University of Leicester (15/11/18)
University of Manchester (19/11/18)
UCL (20/11/18)
University of Nottingham (22/11/18)

If you can’t make it, you can still win! Simply send your full name to, and we’ll enter you into the prize draw.

You can read the full terms and conditions here.

The i interviewed Sam about her first year as an Unlocked prison officer:

i News: Why Would A 21-Year-Old Want To Be A Prison Officer?

The i’s Pascale Hughes interviewed Sam about her first year as an Unlocked Graduates prison officer:

Sam was still a teenager when she decided she wanted to work in the prison service. She knew little about life behind bars, but it seemed like a place where she could make a difference. “You see on the news how people get lost in the system,” she says. “By being an officer you’re able to change someone’s life – even if its one out of a million.”

Her parents thought she would change her mind. But at the age of 21 – armed with a psychology degree from Aston University – she signed up to a pioneering training scheme that has seen her working for a year in a young offenders institution in south east London.

Organised by the charity Unlocked, it is based on the Teach First scheme which places graduate teachers in schools in low-income areas. Both projects aim to get ambitious graduates to work in sectors that have not traditionally appealed to high flyers. This year, more than 900 applied for 100 places.

Source: i News
Read the full article

ITV reports on the 2018 cohort of new Unlocked prison officers.

ITV News: Graduates Join Fight To Reform Prisons

ITV News reports on the 2018 cohort of new Unlocked Graduates:

A degree from an elite university opens doors – now, hundreds of top graduates are competing to unlock them in jails.

From this month, prison officer ranks will be boosted by the arrival of new recruits with qualifications from leading institutions including Oxbridge.

Just over 100 successful applicants are poised to start work in jails in London and the South East after successful applications to the Unlocked Graduates scheme.

The two-year programme, which was launched in 2016, sees participants complete a masters degree while working on the frontline alongside existing jail staff.

Those joining the service under the initiative are paid the same entry level salary as other prison officers – up to £30,000 depending on where they are posted.

Source: ITV News
Read the full article


The Daily Mail reports on the 2018 cohort of new Unlocked prison officers.

Daily Mail: From Lectures To Lock-Up

The Daily Mail reports on the 2018 cohort of new Unlocked Graduates:

A degree from an elite university opens doors – now, hundreds of top graduates are competing to unlock them in jails.

From this month, prison officer ranks will be boosted by the arrival of new recruits with qualifications from leading institutions including Oxbridge.

Just over 100 successful applicants are poised to start work in jails in London and the South East after successful applications to the Unlocked Graduates scheme.

The two-year programme, which was launched in 2016, sees participants complete a masters degree while working on the frontline alongside existing jail staff.

Those joining the service under the initiative are paid the same entry level salary as other prison officers – up to £30,000 depending on where they are posted.

Source: The Daily Mail
Read the full article


Thousands of top grads compete for elite prison officer scheme

++Graduate prison officer scheme doubles in size in year two ++
++ “A job where I can make a real difference” ++

Unlocked Graduates today announced the latest application figures for its pioneering prison officer leadership programme – revealing a dramatic growth among top graduates who want to play a frontline role in reforming the prison system.

This is only the second year of applications but the programme is on track to double in size – with over 100 new officers hoping to be placed in prisons in London and the South East this September. For the first time, this will include prisons in the youth and high security estates.

Over 4,500 graduates registered their interest in the programme in 2018 – more than doubling the interest Unlocked Graduates experienced in its inaugural year.

Over 1,600 people started the application, which this year included the option of a video submission alongside a traditional online form. This led to over 900 full applications for just 100 places.

Applicants studied a diverse range of subjects, from anthropology to theology. Students in the 2018 cohort include for the first time an economist and a biologist. One of the most popular subject amongst applicants was Law – representing a large number of candidates who would previously have considered becoming solicitors and barristers. Three quarters of the successful applicants are from our top 35 target universities, over half from the Russell Group, with four new officers coming from Oxford or Cambridge.

While the applicants are all graduates, they come from all walks of life. Reflecting a recent recruitment drive by Unlocked Graduates to attract teachers, many have a background in education. Several successful applications came from primary school teachers, teaching assistants, those teaching English as a foreign language, and support staff working with children who have Special Educational Needs.

The success of the recruitment drive means that Unlocked Graduates will be able to meet its second year target of doubling the number of prison officers it recruits, placing them into a wider range of prisons as well as entering the youth estate for the first time.

Unlocked Graduates continued its record of attracting a diverse cohort – just under 20 percent are from a BAME background. The programme continued to be particularly attractive to women with a 69 / 31 percent split between women and men.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said:
“I’m pleased to see a growing number of talented graduates applying to the Unlocked Graduates scheme – their desire to make a difference is inspiring.

“Prison officer numbers are at their highest level since 2013 which is vital to ensuring prisons can fulfil their purpose of protecting the public, reducing reoffending and rehabilitating offenders.”

Jack, a Geography graduate from University Oxford who has joined the scheme said:
“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work in a prison. It’s not a career I would ever have considered before, but once I’d learnt a bit more about the impact you can have I was hooked on the idea. This is definitely a job where I feel I can make a real difference!”

Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked Graduates:
“We know that the prison system faces real challenges. And yet despite – or indeed because of – the way prisons are portrayed, we’re attracting phenomenal candidates who have the drive, curiosity and skills to meet those challenges. Just two years in, we’ve successfully established Unlocked Graduates as a unique option for the leaders of the future.”

The scheme is being delivered in partnership with the University of Suffolk. The students who complete the programme will be awarded with an MSc in Leadership and Custodial Environments.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Suffolk, Professor Mohammad Dastbaz, said, “The MSc Leadership and Custodial Environments as part of the Unlocked Graduates scheme marks a significant contribution to raising the status of the role of prison officer and recognising the highly-skilled and complex nature of the job. The masters’ degree is the first of its kind in the country.”

Ofsted head champions new prison education approach at Unlocked Graduates event

++ Unlocked Graduates encouraged to lead reform of prison education ++

Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s deputy chief inspector, used his speech today at the Unlocked Graduate’s Summer Institute to call for radical improvements to prison education. Speaking in Ipswich, where over 100 prospective prison officers are currently being training as part of the Unlocked Graduates programme, he argued that current standards often fall short of what employers expect.

Natasha Porter, CEO of Unlocked Graduates, commented:

“It was a great privilege to have Matthew come to Ipswich to discuss prison education directly with our new cohort of prison officers. All of our officers have been selected for their ability to inspire and lead prison reform, and we can never be complacent about standards within the prison system. There is no doubt that prison officers are crucial to leading rehabilitation in prison, and they can do much to advocate for education as part of that. And it’s very fitting that Matthew raised his concerns at an Unlocked Graduates event, since our programme was a direct recommendation of the Coates review of prison education.”

Matthew Coffey commented:

“Perhaps more importantly than what politicians can do, or government agencies like us, change also needs to come from the bottom up. Initiatives like the Unlocked Graduates programme have an important role to play in changing how we think about prisons and prisoners. I have no doubt that for the graduates joining the programme this year and starting their placements as prison officers there will be challenges aplenty. But hopefully lots of reward as well.”


Staff Profile: Roy De-Allie

One of the unique features of the Unlocked Graduates programme is our Mentoring Prison Officer (MPO) system. MPOs are responsible to supporting our pioneering prison officers over the course of their two-year leadership programme. We sat down with Roy De-Allie to discuss his experiences in the role over the last year:

Why did you decide to become a prison officer?

My mum’s brother started the job in 1961, and did it for quite a few years. Then my sister followed suit, she went in as a non-operational, and that was when I got to hear a lot about the job. She said to me “I think you’d be good at it.” I had a look into it and decided I would take the plunge and join. I didn’t know much about it I’ve got to be honest – but I upskilled while I was there, no day is ever the same, and I’ve loved every minute of it!

How long have you been a prison officer and where have you worked?

I started as a prison officer in 2004, prior to that I was at the Operational Support Grade level (OSG) from 1990. Most of my career was done at HMP Pentonville, I moved from Pentonville to Holloway, and then from Holloway I went on to The Mount.

And what attracted you to the role of Mentoring Prison Officer?

I totally agreed with the idea. I’ve been a mentor before, but I’ve only ever mentored someone for a maximum of seven days. They often come and see me afterwards with different questions and it just wasn’t long enough. Unlocked Graduates is a programme that includes Mentoring Prison Officer as a role for two years, and I just thought that’s a perfect amount of time, so decided to apply for it.

What are your main responsibilities as an MPO?

My main responsibilities are to conduct one-to-one reviews and group supervisions. We also provide additional training for the prison officers, which they do alongside their day-to-day work. Apart from that, it’s general support and signposting.

What kind of subjects do the Unlocked Graduates ask for support with?

I get a lot of questions about ‘dynamic security,’ which is the method by which we build relationships with the prisoners in order to assess and reduce risks. They often ask if they are doing it right or doing it wrong – since I do a lot of observing, I can provide direct feedback to individuals during the one-to-one reviews.

What are the benefits of the MPO system?

The main benefit is the ongoing support that we provide to all the Unlocked Graduates, from coaching sessions to mentoring conversations.

What’s surprised you most about being an MPO?

How quickly the participants have made an impact, within six months they were already making changes. Having that mentor system has really pushed them on, and the support will make them future leaders

Preparing for Summer Institute!

At the end of July the second cohort of prospective Unlocked Graduates will be starting Summer Institute, the six week training programme that will prepare them to be frontline prison officers. We asked Ruby from the original 2017 cohort to share her reflections on Summer Institute, one year on:

You’re getting closer to the start of Summer Institute, so hopefully this will give you a better idea of what to expect. You are about to begin training for one of the most challenging, rewarding and unpredictable jobs, one that will develop your confidence and resilience like no other. Summer Institute is an incredible and exhausting learning curve, and the six weeks are crammed with training, lectures and role play scenarios.

You will be given your uniform on the first day, and you will move back into halls again. Truthfully, I never saw myself going into the prison service prior to joining Unlocked Graduates, so to be picking up the black and white uniform was a very surreal experience. I found myself with a group of 50 of the most supportive and passionate people, all equally as nervous as the next person.

The training is intense, and the days are long, and it is difficult to balance revision for practical training and the assignments for the masters, but you will be inspired by the people you meet, reminding you why you are on this programme. The support of your MPO is invaluable; they will be your lifeline for the next two years!

There were plenty of moments during Summer Institute where I doubted myself and questioned my ability to control a wing of 100 men who were sure to have absolutely no interest in listening to me, particularly when I could be half their age. The scenarios we ran through in training often left me panicking: I’m not tough enough, I’m not assertive enough, I’m not loud enough. Everyone goes through this! You will find your own approach that works for you, so don’t worry, don’t be afraid to ask questions and put yourself out of your comfort zone whenever you can.

There will be nothing quite as daunting as walking onto your wing on your first day as a prison officer. But once you have done this, and once you have spent two weeks there, you will see how much you have developed already. Enjoy the milestones along the way in Summer Institute, too. You will pass your first aid training, learn how to respond to serious incidents, develop your authoritative body language and tone of voice, hear from inspirational speakers about the impact of prison and the positive influence of a good prison officer, and there is a graduation ceremony at the end of the six weeks to celebrate everything you have achieved.

One year into the job, and I am still learning every day, but I can see how my resilience and confidence has developed. You will also have an amazing support network through your cohort. It is so rewarding to know that you have made a positive difference to just one person’s experience in prison, too, no matter how small.

Good luck!