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Rachel Sylvester uses her Times column to promote the new Unlocked Graduates scheme.

The Times: High-flyers can give new purpose to prisons

Recruiting top graduates to work in jails will improve a maligned service and lift inmates’ chances of rehabilitation.

In the 1970s BBC sitcom Porridge, Fletch, the prisoner played by Ronnie Barker, describes a friend who got into debt and had too many fights. “His brain went soft, his reflexes went. [He] just became like a vegetable — an incoherent non-thinking zombie.” The punchline is perhaps predictable. “He joined the prison service as a warder. Doing very well.”

The unfair stereotype of prison officers as glorified bouncers — at best boorish, at worst cruel — has endured for many years, fuelled by television dramas and Hollywood films that like to portray inmates as the underdogs. With the prison service close to breaking point as a result of overcrowding and lack of staff, a new scheme, backed by the Ministry of Justice, is trying to transform this image and raise the status of working with offenders.