Lord Chancellor calls on graduates to become prison officers

More than 750 graduates have now swapped university halls for prison walls as demand for the Unlocked Graduates scheme reached new heights

  • demand for prison officer graduate scheme soars
  • 750 graduates recruited through Unlocked Graduate scheme
  • Lord Chancellor met new recruits as largest ever recruitment drive gets underway

Unlocked Graduates, which encourages the best and brightest university leavers to become prison officers, is now receiving 30 applications per place on average. Since the scheme launched in 2016, successful candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds have worked with 20,000 prisoners in 37 prisons across England and Wales.

Speaking at the Summer Institute event for trainees at Leeds Trinity University on Tuesday (29 August 2023), the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, thanked new officers for their hard work which will help protect the public and drive down the £18 billion a year cost of reoffending.

The rise in applications is in part due to the positive reputation of the programme - 100 per cent of participants who complete feedback surveys rated the training as good or above and 100 per cent of Governors that Unlocked work with want another cohort.

Earlier this month new statistics showed the overall number of prison officers has increased by 700 since June last year. They will join up to 5,000 extra officers in private and public prisons by the mid-2020s being recruited through the Prison Service’s largest ever recruitment drive and a major campaign beginning later this year.

The campaign comes on top of a recent 7% pay rise for frontline officers to reward current staff for their vital work. The increase adds to a major boost in starting salaries in recent years, which now stands at £30,902 compared to £22,293 in 2019.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, said:

"Becoming a prison officer is a hugely important and rewarding career, protecting the public and changing lives for the better.

"It is encouraging to see so much talent joining our prison service, and we will build on this by continuing to improve pay and by launching our largest ever recruitment drive."

A brand-new cohort of more than 100 aspiring prison officers attended the event marking the end of a 6 week intensive training programme, preparing them for their first day on the prison wings. This is the first step of a wider two-year Graduate Development Programme.

When they arrive on prison landings the recruits will be doing more than just ensuring safety and security, many will support prisoners into employment which is vital in breaking the cycle of crime. Thanks in part to the hard work of prison staff, the number of ex-offenders who have been successfully steered into jobs within 6 months post release has more than doubled from 14% to 30% since April 2021.

As a result of programmes such as Unlocked Graduates, being a prison officer is an attractive graduate profession in the UK alongside more traditional careers such as teaching or law.

Natasha Porter OBE, Founder and CEO of Unlocked Graduates, said:

"Since 2017, Unlocked Graduates has recruited, trained and supported over 750 high-flying graduates to become prison officers relentlessly focused on reducing reoffending.

"High quality prisons with excellent prison officers make our streets and society safer. We want to make sure the best people join the prison service. Through our graduate programme, top talent can develop incredible leadership skills while working to reduce crime. It’s fantastic to see so many people are competing for a place on Unlocked Graduates, and I continue to be very excited about the impact the incredible people who join our programme are able to have. We can only achieve this level of success thanks to the support of the Ministry of Justice, and we are hugely grateful to the Lord Chancellor for visiting our training."

Former Unlocked Graduate Kat Gartland added:

"Before I came across Unlocked, I’d never considered a career in the prison service. Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else.

"Every day I know I am contributing towards breaking cycles of reoffending and helping those in my care. Applying for Unlocked Graduates was the best decision I’ve made – I got the chance to develop as a leader from day one, alongside a master’s and lifelong friends. I’d encourage everyone to apply."

Participants in the programme are supported and developed through intensive mentoring and a programme of study that results in a Master’s degree. They complete this while taking on the full duties of a frontline Band 3 Prison Officer. Graduates also have the opportunity to input into policy and create lasting change across prisons.

To learn more about the Unlocked Graduates scheme and apply, visit Unlocked Graduates (unlockedgrads.org.uk). For wider information on the role of a prison officer, go to https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/prison-officer.

Ministry of Justice
HM Prison and Probation Service
Alex Chalk KC MP