Are you up for a challenge? Like the sound of a two-year graduate programme, where you’ll earn up to £31,453 per year – and leave with a Master’s degree, rock-solid confidence and some seriously impressive leadership skills?

We know a huge number of today’s graduates want to ‘make a difference’ — but for many it’s unclear how that translates into an actual job or profession. If this sounds like you, have you ever considered joining… the prison service?

Now, we know what you’re thinking: YIKES. Prisons are scary places, right? And bright-eyed graduates are unlikely to be welcomed with open arms by hardened criminals. But wait. Don’t make up your mind until you have all the information about this graduate prison officer scheme. For starters, it turns out you’ll get tonnes of support and training before you go anywhere near a prison. And if you decide it’s not for you long-term, there is no expectation you’ll stay in the prison sector at the end of your two years. That’s right — you’re free to go. In fact, they rather expect you to (the scheme is a bit like Teach First in that respect).

You’re still reading — so we’ll assume you’re potentially interested (!) and keen to know more about what’s actually involved. Below is what happened when Graduate Fog spoke to Natasha Porter, Chief Executive at Unlocked, a charity promoting a new prison officer scheme aimed directly at graduates…


GRADUATE FOG: Forgive us — but do you really think fresh-out-of-uni graduates can cut it as prison officers?
NATASHA PORTER, UNLOCKED: People have a lot of preconceptions about prisons — and we’re aware it might sound a little bit intimidating to some! But don’t worry, we make sure you’ve had plenty of training by the time you get anywhere near a prison. Most of our graduates go into Category B or Category C jails which aren’t the highest security prisons.

So graduates can expect lots of support?
Absolutely. From the start of the programme, you will have an assigned mentoring prison officer who will work with you for the two years to ensure you are making maximum impact and address any concerns you have. You will be placed in prisons that are making good progress in a group of 6-8 participants, so will have plenty of peer support. You will also receive substantial training on how to deal with difficult situations that may arise. Day-to-day prisons run fairly smoothly so there is no need to be scared.

Graduate prison officer scheme

FAIR PAY: Graduate prison officers can expect a starting salary of up to £31,453

So what does the scheme actually involve?
After an intensive six weeks of initial training, you will spend two years working as a full time prison officer in London or the South East. You will learn all sorts of skills on the job and make a big difference to prisoners’ lives. On a day to day basis this might be helping them maintain a good relationship with their family, or making sure they take part in work or education that will keep them from reoffending on release. At the same time you will do a fully funded master’s degree. You might also take part in a work placement with an employer outside the prison sector during your time off. In the second year of the scheme you will have an exciting opportunity to actually help influence the government by contributing to a policy paper on prison reform.

Graduate prison officer programme

READY TO GO: Graduates receive tonnes of training before they start working with offenders

And does it work? What do the prisoners and other prison officers think of the graduates?
You will be working in a prison with a group of at least six other Unlocked participants and looked after by a trained, professional mentor so you will have plenty of friendly faces to give you guidance. A prison officer is a highly skilled, valuable, and worthwhile role to have and we want graduates to see it in that way like they would other essential public sector jobs. We are working together with prison officers to help get this message out. We are also recruiting prison officers as our mentors. Prisoners are also really supportive of the scheme.

FIRM FANS: Professional services firm EY is just one employer that says they'd love to hear from graduates who've completed the Unlocked scheme

FIRM FANS: Professional services firm EY is just one employer that says they’d love to hear from graduates who’ve completed the Unlocked scheme

What sort of graduates are you looking for?
We are looking for graduates who want to work in a challenging environment. You will need to have a positive outlook, leadership potential, good decision making skills and be able to build relationships. You will need to be able to cope in difficult situations and be motivated about our work. We would like our participants to be representative of the communities that we work in, with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, particularly with regard to ethnicity as there is a high proportion of people from BAME backgrounds in prison. We are also looking for a relatively even gender split.

What are the entry criteria?
We have a minimum entry criteria of 300 UCAS points, Grade C at GCSE Maths and English, a 2:1 undergraduate degree and the right to work in the UK for the duration of the programme. We are attracting and training people to become prison officers so those already working in the service as officers cannot apply.

Does it matter where an applicant was at university, or what subject they studied?
It doesn’t matter where you went to university or what you studied. However you will need at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree or equivalent.

How and when can graduates apply?
Graduates should apply via the application form on our website.

What does the recruitment process involve?
The first stage is an application form which gives you the opportunity to highlight your skills and explain about why you are applying to the programme. If you are successful, you will be invited to our assessment centre. There you will complete a number of activities. Activities will include an interview, role play and a group-based task. You will then be given an offer, conditional on passing various necessary checks.

Graduate prison officer programme

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING: It doesn’t matter which uni you attended or what subject you studied

Do have any tips for graduates?
Understand the role — read the website and case studies of people involved in the prison system thoroughly and think carefully about your reasons for applying to the programme. Make sure you prepare well — find out more about the role and life in prisons in advance of the assessment centre and think of any questions that you may have.

What happens at the end of the two year programme?
At the end of the programme you will have a range of options open to you, including in the prison service, as well as a range of other industries. We will give you all the help you need along the way.

If graduates decide to stay in the prison sector afterwards, is a job guaranteed?
While a job isn’t guaranteed, graduates will be at the required level at the end of Unlocked to take on a job in the prison service and possibly move into an accelerated leadership programme.

Let’s say a graduate decides not to stay in the prison sector after the end of their programme. What sort of employers will be interested in the skills and experience they’ve gained?
With so many transferable skills, you will be an attractive prospect to a range of employers including in the government and public policy, law, consultancy, and others. Unlocked already has some high profile supporters, including the law firm Freshfields, PwC and EY.

What is the salary?
The starting salary is up to £31,453 depending on location. In addition, during your second year on the programme if you develop the policy paper, you will receive an additional £4,000.

What are the working hours?
The standard working hours for a prison officer are 37 hours, including 17% 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.

Where will graduates be based?
Graduates will be based in prisons in London and the South East initially. We will be expanding across the country in the near future.

What do graduates say is the best thing about the scheme?
Being a prison officer is a job like no other- and with Unlocked you get a range of other benefits. How many other jobs are there where you can become a future leader, as well as tackling the major problem of prisoner reoffending? Unlocked is totally unique.

Click here for more information about applying to Unlocked

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