Programme overview

Our award-winning two-year Leadership Development Programme will accelerate your development as an inspirational and supportive leader.


  • Summer Institute

    The scheme kicks off with an intensive six week residential course where you will cover all elements of standard prison officer training as well as starting your Master’s studies. This will include two weeks of prison-based learning. You will receive full salary and all accommodation costs will be covered.

  • Mentoring

    You will be assigned an experienced prison officer as a mentor for the duration of the programme. Your mentor will be on site at your prison for two days a week to assist with your continual professional development.

  • Master's degree

    As part of the programme you will complete a fully-funded, bespoke Master’s degree. Drawing on the latest research in the field, and led by top academic experts, your studies will give you the chance to step back from the day-to-day and learn the theory to drive system change on the frontline.

  • Work placement

    We offer an optional work placement in your second year where you can use your skills in a different environment, choosing between a wide range of corporate organisations, public sector bodies and charities.

  • Policy paper

    You will have the opportunity to write a policy paper which will be delivered to the Justice Minister. This is a unique opportunity to have system-wide impact across the country. The policy paper will be separate from, but may draw on, your Master’s dissertation.

  • The future

    Our commitment to your development doesn’t end when the two years are over. Our team and alumni network will support your next steps – whether you decide to stay and advance within the prison system, or seek career opportunities elsewhere.

Fully funded MSc

The Unlocked Graduates MSc programme in Leadership and Custodial Environments is a bespoke course aimed at supporting the development of inspirational leaders within the prison system.

Delivered part-time over two years, the course provides specialist knowledge and advanced understanding of the prison environment that will enhance your professional practice as a prison officer and build an academically informed, evidence-based perspective on a wide range of issues in criminal justice. It will give you the skills and expertise to change attitudes and perceptions to encourage new approaches that support rehabilitation.

The course has been developed by Helen Arnold, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at University of Suffolk and Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University. She is a leading expert on the role of the prison officer.


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On the job support

During the two-year programme, you will receive mentoring and supervision from a highly experienced prison officer. They are seconded to Unlocked for the duration of the programme as a Mentoring Prison Officer. Meet some of the officers working with Unlocked at the moment.

Danielle Dodd

Joined Prison Service 2008

Why did you join the Prison Service?

I joined when I was 23.I had a background in recruiting and I thought I was pretty streetwise – good at talking to people, building relationships and de-escalating situations and thought those skills would be useful. I decided to give it a year and see how I felt, but I was hooked within weeks. Of course, it was a big change. In the past I had worked regular office hours and the most challenging situations I had to deal with were calls from stroppy clients. It was in the back of my mind that prisons bring you into contact with difficult people but I wasn’t unduly concerned. I knew I’d be well trained and working with a committed team.

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Describe the atmosphere in prison

A prison is like a small town. It’s a community and there’s a lot of camaraderie. You spend a lot of time with the prisoners and you get to know them well – it’s not purely us and them, uniform and prisoners. But, while you can be friendly, you’re never friends with the prisoners – you have to maintain a professional boundary. You are also part of a great team – in fact that’s one of the best aspects of the role.

How do you support prisoners?

There are opportunities to make a difference to prisoners every day. You’re always looking at ways to support their rehabilitation but that can mean all sorts of different interventions, helping families to reconnect might involve supporting prisoners to manage their money so that they still have funds to pay for a call home. It can be very small things that make the difference. Without that call, maybe a relationship worsens and then before you know it a prisoner has lost his temper and done something silly that means a loss of privileges and a backward step in terms of rehabilitation. A big part of the role is modelling good behaviour and showing that you believe in the prisoners’ capacity to change.

Tell us about a time you really made a difference

I was working a in a women’s prison and dealing with a woman who had been involved in a serious incident. It was out of character and she was very upset. By talking to her over hours I discovered that she was using drugs again, having previously been clean. She needed help but didn’t know who to speak to. I connected her with the healthcare and drug intervention teams and they sorted her out. When she moved on from the prison she wrote to me saying what a difference I had made just by being willing to persist and keep talking to her until she opened up about being back on drugs.

A lot of prisoners have very low levels of literacy and they’re embarrassed to admit it and unsure of how to move forward. I had one woman from a travelling community who was dedicated to daily prayer but couldn’t read her prayer card – she found that very distressing, like a personal failure. So, I helped her to read her card and to seek further support through the prison’s education service.

Why did you join Unlocked?

Having been a prison officer for some years now I was very excited by the launch of Unlocked. There’s no doubt that prisons need to be reformed and the experience needs to be more positive. I’m interested in changing perceptions and attitudes about prison and helping to introduce new ideas and perspectives – that’s how you introduce new initiatives and drive change.

What advice would you give new applicants?

My advice to anyone joining the scheme is to come into it with an open mind and a determination to make a positive difference. Understandably people may be worried about the security and personal safety aspects of the role, but I’ve always felt very safe at work. Control and restraint is a tiny part of what we do – it’s much more about dealing with problems in a calm and controlled way.

Stuart Beharry

Joined Prison Service 2000

Why did you join Unlocked?

I’d read about the scheme and liked the way it was being presented. I think rehabilitation is so important and Unlocked is a really innovative way of approaching it and raising the profile of the work we do. I’m going to be working as a Mentoring Prison Officer (MPO), helping graduates on the programme with one-to-one coaching. I’ll be gaining a qualification myself but my main focus is to help the graduates establish a culture of rehabilitation in the prisons where they are based.


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What do you like about being a prison officer?

The variety. Every day you’re working with different people and different organisations, from healthcare and drug treatment to external charities and resettlement pathways.

How do you support prisoners?

There are so many ways that you can have an impact. It can be about supporting prisoners to adjust to being inside, but mainly it’s about helping them to adopt the behaviours that will allow them to function in society: having the patience to queue; respecting other people’s space, belongings and opinions. These are things that they have maybe overlooked in the past but they are important building blocks, both for life inside and also for when they get out.

You have to remember that the people in prisons are humans. They’ve had problems and made mistakes but they aren’t fundamentally different to people on the outside. What we’re trying to do is make sure that their experience in prison is safe, and that they have an opportunity to make some changes to their lives so that they don’t end up coming back here. That can be accessing the opportunity to learn a new skill, but it could be something as simple as getting someone to see things a different way.

Why did you join Unlocked?

I’d read about the scheme and liked the way it was being presented. I think rehabilitation is so important and Unlocked is a really innovative way of approaching it and raising the profile of the work we do. I’m going to be working as a Mentoring Prison Officer (MPO), helping graduates on the programme with one-to-one coaching. I’ll be gaining a qualification myself but my main focus is to help the graduates establish a culture of rehabilitation in the prisons where they are based.

What advice would you offer?

Do your research. Read up on prisons and go over policy papers. Speak to prison staff and visit some courts – whatever you can to get some exposure to the environment and the people it looks after.

What are you most proud of?

Being part of a really effective team. Working with mental health professionals and detox specialists, the things that we can achieve as a team are truly amazing.

Roy De-Allie

Joined Prison Service 1990

Why did you join the prison service?

I enjoy helping people. If I can help one prisoner in 100 to change things then I can go home with my head held high. Being a prison officer is not just about locking people up – it’s about helping them to find a better way to live and behave. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve had numerous prisoners thank me directly or through letters to the governor for what my colleagues and I have done.


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How have you supported prisoners?

There’s something you do every day that has an impact on individual prisoners. Sometimes it’s a big thing, sometimes it’s just about treating them with humanity.

I had one repeat offender whose wife had had enough and said that she wouldn’t let him have contact with their kids anymore. He was distraught. He’d had himself voluntarily tested for drugs and was clean. It was the first time I had seen him off drugs and he asked me to help him reach out to his wife. I spoke to her and explained how things seemed to be different this time – that he was working hard to turn things around. She brought the kids and began to visit regularly. Eighteen months later, after he’d been discharged, I received a picture of him with his new baby. He’d stayed clean and was making a go of it.

Is it dangerous?

I can’t remember having felt threatened personally. You work as a team so you’ve always got each other’s backs, looking out for anything unusual. After a while you just get a sense for trouble – ‘something doesn’t feel right’ on the landings and then you have to figure out what’s going on. If prisoners are all hanging out on the landings it usually means that they’re expecting a fight – you just need to figure out where.

Why did you join Unlocked?

Right from the start I thought it was a great idea. Rehabilitation is so important and this is an initiative that puts it at the heart of everything, and gives it a much higher profile. I’ve done mentoring before but only in short bursts. Unlocked gives me a chance to help new prison officers to develop over a much longer period and to pass on what I’ve learned over the years.

I’m really excited about it. I’ve met the first cohort of graduates joining the programme and they are very impressive. They asked a lot of great questions and now I can’t wait to see how they grow into the role. And, I love the fact that they are coming from different backgrounds and bringing different perspectives to the job – that’s what we need.

What do you like about being a prison officer?

You’re making an impact and supporting some of the most challenging people in our society so you need to be a lot more than just a turnkey: you’re part mental health worker, part social worker, part teacher, part negotiator. Every day there’s something different to deal with and the camaraderie is great – it’s a real team job.

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