Unlocked Graduates

Unlocked Graduates

There has been a great deal of news coverage surrounding the problems faced in UK prisons recently. Issues such as overcrowding and a lack of adequate staffing have led to violence, riots and a need for urgent, systematic change.

One of the charities that Safestore are pleased to support with FREE storage for their Portable Prison Training Cells and promote is 'Unlocked Graduates', which aims to foster a new approach to leadership within prisons, reduce reoffending and drastically improve the current state of affairs.

The basic facts and statistics about the existing prison system make for stark reading:

- Up to 60% of adult prisoners reoffend within one year of their release
- Three fifths leave prison without a job or programme of education to go to
- 49% of female prisoners and 23% of male prisoners have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety
- Reoffending costs are astronomical: in 2015, the cost to the UK taxpayer of detecting, sentencing and imprisoning reoffending prisoners was £15bn

Crimes committed by reoffenders have profound effects on their victims, and on the families of the reoffenders.

Something needs to change and Unlocked believes that attracting innovative leaders with fresh ideas and a focus on rehabilitation will help prisoners to make better life choices after release.

How Unlocked began

The Unlocked Graduates programme was one of the key recommendations of the Coates’ Review of prison education, a report that argued that education needs to be put at the heart of the prison service if Government is serious about the rehabilitation of prisoners.
Starting with the belief that fresh, specially-trained leaders can help to change the way we think about prisons and prisoners, the charity aims to lower reoffending rates and create safe and functional prisons.


To do this, Unlocked has developed a two-year leadership programme that seeks to encourage the brightest and best graduates to put their minds to overhauling the prison system. In recent years there have been a number of similar initiatives aimed at attracting graduates to work in the public sector – particularly in education, health and social work. Unlocked is the first such initiative aimed at highlighting the need for talented graduates to become prison officers.

What does the Unlocked programme entail?

Graduates on the course will work in prisons alongside prison officers who will act as their mentors, guiding them and sharing their knowledge and experience. In this way, graduates will not only learn what the current role of a prison officer is and see just how prisons really work on a day-to-day basis, but also (with the input of the Unlocked tutors) start to see how small changes could make a big difference to the prison system. It’s about seeing the bigger picture as well as learning the details through direct experience.


This fully-funded Master’s course also offers the opportunity to influence decisions made at government level via contributions to a policy paper, and has a starting salary of £27,224 - £30,064.
Its first round of recruitment was incredibly successful; 600 top graduates vied for just 40 places, with thousands more registering their interest.
More than 2,000 recent graduates and career changers expressed interest in the scheme, with 600 submitting an application. In the first cohort, 80 percent of Unlocked participants will be women, 20 per cent will come from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.

Beyond the course

The practical nature of the course will make the graduate immensely employable; hopefully some of the best leaders will remain within the prison system to help to reform it from within but Unlocked also wants them to go into other sectors. The ultimate aim of this initiative is to reduce reoffending and introduce reform to improve conditions within the prison system for prisoners and prison offices alike. On an individual level, the Unlocked programme will give graduates valuable experience and a Master’s qualification that will make them very attractive to employers.
Over two years, graduates will develop their resilience, grit and determination and will learn how to handle very difficult situations. These skills will make them ideally suited to working in the prison service as leaders, and also highly attractive to public and private sector employers if they choose to leave the prison service after the two years.

By producing leaders who can discover innovative solutions to the problems within the system at all levels, Unlocked seeks to help prisoners to leave prison adjusted, healthy and able to contribute to society.

Those graduates who move out of the prison service after their course may act as ambassadors, encouraging companies to employ ex-offenders, thereby reducing the rate of reoffending.

Several private and public sector interests including the Civil Service Fast Stream, Ernst & Young, PwC and Freshfields have already given their support to the scheme and acknowledge that graduates who complete the Unlocked course will be in demand.

How to find out more

Graduates may not previously have seen entering the prison service as a viable option with a clear career structure. Unlocked is raising the profile and status of the profession and encouraging the most able and astute graduates to pursue this new career path. Full details of their course and their supporters can be found on their website.

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