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Prison should lead to more than a return visit

Karan, 2018 cohort

Prison should lead to more than a return visit

FAQ Back to top

We’re sure you will have a lot of questions about the Unlocked Graduates leadership development programme. You can find answers to the most common ones below. If you have any additional questions, you can send them to

Our FAQ covers questions related to the job, the programme, and the application process:

#The Job

Will I wear a uniform?

Yes, as a full-time prison officer working for HMPPS you are expected to wear a uniform within the regulations of the service. In most prisons, this will include a belt with keys and a baton.

Do I need to be able to drive?

It is not a requirement that you are able to drive. We ask this question on the placement survey to support us in our allocation process as there are some prisons that are more accessible by car. It is generally recommended to be able to drive for most prisons due to the shift nature of the work and accessibility.

What are the working hours?

The standard working hours for a prison officer are 37 hours a week, including 17 per cent antisocial hours. You can also (and may be asked to) work overtime, for which you will receive additional pay. Since prison officers work in shifts, you will be required to work on night shifts, as well as during weekends and bank holidays.

How much will I earn?

The starting salary for Band 3 prison officers in the prisons we currently work with is between £22,843 to £30,094.

Which prisons do Unlocked Graduates work in?

While the list of prisons Unlocked participants work in changes each year, we currently have participants based at:

North: Buckley Hall, Hindley, Liverpool, Manchester, Risley, Styal

Midlands: Birmingham, Brinsford, Featherstone, Hewell, Stafford, Swinfen Hall

South: Aylesbury, Bedford, Belmarsh, Brixton, Bullingdon, Cookham Wood, Downview, Feltham, Huntercombe, Isis, Pentonville, Wandsworth, Woodhill, Wormwood Scrubs

How quickly will I be promoted?

For the duration of the programme, you will work as a frontline prison officer. As with any officer, after your probationary period, you could apply for relevant promotion opportunities in your prison. At the end of the programme, if you choose (and are accepted) to stay in the prison service you could seek further opportunities in your prison or you may choose to apply for a development programme run by HMPPS. Half of our graduates took on more responsibility during their two years on our programme, with one in seven getting promoted.

Will I be in danger?

A prison is a unique environment to work in. It is there to act as a punishment to criminals through the deprivation of liberty. Regardless of their past, few if any prisoners want to be in prison and because of this, emotions can run high and incidents do occur. It is important that you understand the environment that you are working in but also that you will receive significant training and support to deal with situations that may arise. This forms the basis of your introductory training and you will be able to lean on the support of your Mentoring Prison Officer, as well as colleagues in the prison, to ensure your safety.

#The Programme

What is the Master’s degree?

The Master’s qualification that our officers currently work towards is an MSc in Applied Custodial Leadership awarded by Leeds Trinity University.

How much time will I have to dedicate to the Master’s?

You will be expected to complete a few assignments in your first year, alongside your full-time job. There are five additional teaching days to support you, for which you will be given a day off. You will also have a half day with your mentoring prison officer each fortnight to support you with your studies and your work.

How will I be supported?

A Mentoring Prison Officer (MPO) will be assigned to you and the Unlocked participants in your prison. They will spend two days a week in your prison and a half-day a fortnight with every individual participant to ensure that you are fully supported throughout your time on the programme. Each MPO is an experienced prison officer and has been recruited to work for us on secondment from the prison service.

What happens at the end of the two years?

Following the programme, it is up to you whether you choose to stay in the service or move into a different sector. The skills that you have developed as a prison officer will put you in a strong position to pursue a leadership role in a wide variety of sectors.

Will I be the only Unlocked Graduate Prison Officer in my prison?

No. We place Unlocked officers in groups, typically of between four and eight.

Which prisons are you placing Unlocked officers in?

We are currently placing participants in public prisons in Greater London, the South East the North West and the West Midlands. This includes men and women’s prisons and young offender institutions.

Can I choose where I am placed?

In 2021, we are currently placing in London, South East (Thames Valley), North West and the West Midlands. We place in adult male, female and the youth estate. Following your conditional offer, you will be sent a survey asking for your preferences regarding location and type of prison and if you have any extenuating reasons regarding your ability to relocate. Please be aware that we may ask for evidence of this.

We will try, where possible, to take your preferences into account but candidates should be flexible in terms of where they are placed as we expect our participants to be motivated to work in all prisons, regardless of type and location.

#The Application Process

Can I still apply if I don’t have a 2:1?

Normally we only accept applications that meet our minimum academic requirements. However, where you have exceptional additional experience or extenuating circumstances, there is space for you to put this on the application form and we will make an informed decision about your suitability for the programme.

What counts as extenuating circumstances for exam results?

If you have written confirmation from your university or school explaining why you under-performed expectations, this can be accepted as proof of extenuating or mitigating circumstances. For example, illness or personal circumstances at the time of your exams may have impacted your performance.

What is involved in the fitness and health check?

Once you receive your conditional offer, you will need to complete a fitness and health check. This is the same check that all prison officers are required to undertake. The details are as follows:

  • You will be required to complete a health questionnaire, which will be analysed by a nursing practitioner. The questionnaire will explore your overall health and any existing conditions.
  • Your weight and height will be taken and your BMI calculated.
  • You will have an eye test. You must be able to meet a minimum of standard eyesight in both eyes. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you will be required to complete the test both aided and unaided. You will need to be able to see to a level of 6/36 unaided. If you are concerned about this, please contact the recruitment team.
  • Your blood pressure will be checked. If your blood pressure is higher than 170/80, it will be taken again. If after the second check, it still remains high, you will not be permitted to take part in the fitness test.

The following fitness tests will be carried out:

  • Bleep test – This is running between a set of points in a given time period (or bleeps). The bleeps will speed up as the levels of the test progress. To practise for this test, aim to be jogging for around twenty minutes and completing a distance of at least 1.5 miles.
  • Obstacle course – Don’t worry, this title is a little misleading. You will be required to run/jog in and out of a series of plastic cones within 34 seconds. Your jogging practice for the bleep test will more than cover any practice required here.
  • Riot shield test – You need to able to hold a 7kg shield in front of you, with one leg in front of the other, for 60 seconds. Any exercise that will strengthen your arms and upper body will be a good practise.
    Grip test – Your grip will be tested by a piece of equipment that measures kilograms by force. You need to reach at least 25kg.
Can I apply while I am in the process of getting a UK visa?

Unfortunately, we cannot accept applications from candidates who do not have the right to work in the UK for the duration of the programme. Due to the tight timelines of the application process and enrolment, we cannot accept your application unless you already have the right to work here.

Am I eligible to apply on the graduate visa route?

Unfortunately, the graduate visa does not make you eligible to apply for the Unlocked programme. This is due to visa restrictions around the hybrid nature of the full-time job and part time study for the Master’s degree. In addition, the duration of the Unlocked Programme is 26 months and so would not be covered by this visa route.

I can’t find my academic certificates – can I still apply?

You will be asked to demonstrate proof of the academic requirements during the onboarding process after you have been made a conditional offer. At this point, you must have access to your certificates. If you cannot locate them you may be required to apply for new certificates.

What if I have a criminal record?

Following your conditional offer, you will go through the Unlocked onboarding process, which will include some vetting questions and DBS clearance. Any evidence of a criminal record will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis but it may have an effect on your conditional offer.

I have a disability; does this matter?

If your disability is likely to affect your performance in the role, this will be discussed at a later stage. You are, for example, required to successfully pass a fitness and health test because the role of a prison officer requires you to be extremely mobile.

I already have a master’s or PhD, can I still apply?

Yes, you can still apply but you will still be expected to complete the Unlocked Master’s qualification as part of the programme.

If I am already a prison officer can I still apply?

Existing prison officers are not eligible to apply as you have already undergone prison officer training.

Can I apply this year if I was rejected last year?

Absolutely. We really welcome applications from people who have applied previously.

How can I get in contact with you if I need assistance?

The Unlocked team are available to email if you are experiencing any difficulties with your application or if you have other unanswered questions. Please get in contact using: