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.

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!

Radio 5 caught up with Clo and Jack to see how they have been getting on after being prison officers for nearly a year.

BBC Radio 5 Live: Interview

Last year Radio 5 Live interviewed two of our Unlocked Graduates to find out why they joined the programme. Now, nearly a year on, Anna Foster caught up with Clo and Jack to see how they have been getting on in their prisons. She also interviewed Unlocked CEO Natasha Porter about the impact that the programme is having.

Source: BBC Radio 5 Live
Listen (from 10 m)


Bolu is in her final year at Sheffield University, studying Law. She’s currently thinking about doing a master’s abroad but is still interested in a career in the criminal justice system.

Why did you want to work for Unlocked Graduates?

Unlocked Graduates uses innovative ideas to look at tackling reoffending and making sure those who commit crimes are helped to go back into the community. I study law and I’m interested in the way that law impacts communities.

What do you think makes Unlocked Graduates stand out from other opportunities?

You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re representing, that’s very important. You need to be engaged with the message you’re trying to give to others. I was interested in what Unlocked Graduates were doing, so I could speak passionately about it. The flexibility and support we were given made it stand out to me. With Unlocked, I could bring in my ideas, which is important because everyone’s different and works in different ways.

How would you describe your role as an Unlocked Graduates Brand Manager?

It was probably one of the most rewarding jobs because I improved myself as a person, in terms of skills and confidence. I started dialogues with other Brand Managers and was able to use my social media platforms and society connections to communicate and network with people. I was spreading the word about a graduate scheme that people thought was really unconventional! Seeing it on their face was the best thing for me, I could connect and have productive conversations. I could challenge misconceptions about a role that has negative connotations that often aren’t accurate. People felt like they could have a direct impact on crime levels – and that was fantastic to see.

What advice would you give to someone applying for the role?

You have to be passionate, that’s the most important thing. You don’t want someone who’s just looking for a part time job, you need to care about the cause. You also need strong communication skills and good organisation. I really enjoyed the training, I got to meet some of the other Brand Managers and felt like a part of a bigger network.

What have you gained from the experience?

The role has taught me a lot about myself. Being a Brand Manager was not my only part time job so I had to organise my time effectively. It taught me that when I truly believe in something it’s really easy to talk about it. I found myself talking about it all the time! I now know that when you want something you really need to go for it 100% and make sure you bring your best self, that you prepare and know what you’re talking about and what to expect.

Interested in developing your skills whilst also fitting paid work around your studies? Unlocked Graduates are recruiting Brand Managers for universities across the country – apply here.

Rachel Sylvester of The Times visited HMP High Down to talk to a group of our pioneering prison officers working on the frontline.

The Times: Can Unlocked Make A Difference?

Rachel Sylvester of The Times visited HMP High Down to talk to a group of our pioneering prison officers working there, arguing that their arrival “could be the start of a revolution that will change the face of the criminal justice system:”

Scarlett is an intelligent and articulate law graduate who got a good degree from a prestigious university where she was president of the Law Society – but instead of applying for the Bar or pursuing a career with a top City law firm, she decided to become a prison officer. Her family were shocked – “Horrified was the exact word my mum used; she was worried about the danger,” the 21-year-old says. Her friends were also stunned by her unorthodox choice, but now they want to hear every detail of her job, which is far more exciting than their own. “They see the difference I’m making and realise that is why I want to be there.”

When she arrived seven months ago at HMP High Down, a local category B men’s jail in Surrey, it was in the grip of a Spice – synthetic marijuana – epidemic. Although the 1,200-unit prison is rapidly improving, under an impressive new female governor, there are frequent incidents of self-harm and violence. One inmate recently started a fire in his cell. “We’re trained for the worst-case scenario but I’ve only seen prisoners jumping up on the netting once,” Scarlett says. “Humour is everything in this job, de-escalating and building relationships. When it comes to preventing self-harm, prisoners will be able to open up to you if you’ve asked about their family or can have a laugh with them. They see you as a human being and you treat them as such. You think it’s all going to be aggression and action but actually it’s all about talking.”

Source: The Times
Read the full article


Conference visit – “Best Practice in Mental Health”

Unlocked Graduate Scarlett blogs about a recent academic conference she attended:

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a conference on ‘Best Practice in Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System,’ hosted by the Centre for Mental Health. This piece cannot do all of the many brilliant speakers justice, but here are some insights from the day – ones which really stood out to me as a Prison Officer.

This focus is particularly important because I was immediately struck by the fact that I was the only Prison Officer at the conference. I was fortunate enough to have been able to book annual leave to be there (which is often tricky for prison staff!), and to have my ticket paid for by the amazing Unlocked Participant Development Fund. The many thought-provoking points made during this day-long conference re-affirmed my belief in how vital it is that we make frontline staff a part of academic debate that can affect change.

Read more Conference visit – “Best Practice in Mental Health”

Brand Manager Interview: Cherilyn

Cherilyn is in her final year at The University of Warwick studying International Business with French. She wanted to apply to the Unlocked Graduate scheme and thought the Brand Manager role was a good way to learn more about the organisation, the mission statement and recruitment process. Cherilyn has now been accepted onto the Unlocked Graduates’ 2018 cohort and will start her job as a prison officer in September.

Why did you want to work for Unlocked Graduates?

I was originally motivated to apply to Unlocked Graduates because it’s such a unique opportunity – you get the chance to make a difference in the role which is so different to other schemes. You also study for a fully-funded Master’s and contribute to a policy paper. I’ve always wanted to drive change but it’s difficult to find a graduate programme that allows you to have such a massive impact.

In my role as a Brand Manager I was hoping to find out more about the organisation; I thought the mission statement was absolutely incredible – the dedication to reducing reoffending is so important.

Read more Brand Manager Interview: Cherilyn

Unlocked Graduates launches 2018 Cohort

Successful applicants gather in London to learn more about the Unlocked Graduates programme:

On Saturday 10th April Unlocked Graduates hosted our second annual Cohort Launch Event in central London. Following months of applications and assessments, the event brought together most of the new participants who will make up our second cohort of pioneering prison officers. It was a chance to get excited about the opportunities and challenges they will take on if they successfully complete the programme.

Natasha Porter, founder and CEO of Unlocked Graduates, kicked off the day by setting out those challenges. Prisons across the country are, despite the best efforts of those who work there, struggling to offer rehabilitation. Not only are reoffending rates high, but those who offend often have multiple complex issues that frequently aren’t addressed. As Natasha made clear, it was precisely this situation that brought the audience to the room that day: “The problems in prisons are now your problems – your problems to help fix.”

Read more Unlocked Graduates launches 2018 Cohort

Queen Mary University of London’s student newspaper The Print interviewed Unlocked Graduates CEO Natasha Porter and prison officer Imani about the programme.

The Print: A Baptism Of Fire

Queen Mary University of London’s student newspaper The Print interviewed Unlocked Graduates CEO Natasha Porter about the programme, and Imani about her experiences as a frontline prison officer:

Whilst considering the economic and existential dread of a post-university life, the opportunity to work in a prison is not at the forefront of students’ minds. One Reform League recently deemed prisons, ‘a bloodbath of assaults, suicides and self-harm’, whilst in 2016, there were 65 assaults in prisons on both inmates and staff per day.

Yet, according to charitably funded Unlocked Graduates, the answer to this crisis is young and educated graduates, such as ourselves. With recruitment critically low and the need for effective reform becoming more apparent everyday, Unlocked offers a two-year graduate scheme that will throw our schooled and skilled selves into the heart of the crisis as Band 3 prison officers. Whether we’re willing to answer the call is another question.

The problem must be solved somehow. Natasha Porter, Unlocked’s CEO, told The Print: “You never get somewhere that has this many socioeconomic disadvantages in one location”. Over half of the people entering prison have the literacy skills of an eleven-year-old, 49% of the women and 23% of the men are diagnosed as anxious and depressed, almost a quarter of adult prisoners have been in care at some point in their lives, and 44% of adult prisoners reoffend within only one year of release.

Source: The Print
Read the full article


Conference visit – “Redesigning Justice”

Unlocked Graduate Mollie blogs about a recent academic conference she attended:

I was given the opportunity by Unlocked Graduates to attend a recent conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference” – on the 21-22 March 2018 in Oxford.

It very quickly became clear that I was the only person out of the many, many people at the conference who did NOT have a PhD or 20+ years of experience in a field. Despite this being intimidating, it was very inspirational for me to meet numerous people who have achieved a lot and contributed so much to the world that I am only just entering.

Read more Conference visit – “Redesigning Justice”

Schools Week profiles Unlocked Graduates CEO Natasha Porter, examining how her experiences in teaching led her to the world of prison reform.

Schools Week: Profile of Natasha Porter

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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