Graduates: The New Prison Officers?
Britain’s prisons have been struggling. It has been on the news; stories about riot police having to attend, and armed prisoners claiming parts of prisons from the guards. These prisoners have vandalised the prisons and caused panic and disorder.
Alongside this, there have been reports into the current conditions in the UK’s prisons. Although the actual number of deaths in prisons has fallen in a year, the number of incidents of self-harm and assault in prisons have both gone up – over 41,000 and 27,000 respectively.
The UK’s prison population is around 85,000 which is higher than it has been in 4 years. This has led to two-thirds of UK prisons being overcrowded, meaning they have more prisoners than their official safe capacity. This isn’t just a prisoner or two on top of capacity either, some prisons are more than 50% over capacity.
The prison service is in need of change. It is understaffed (though the government has pledged to recruit 2,500 extra prison officers), underfunded, and on the receiving end of bad media – which doesn’t help to solve the other problems.
One initiative in place to try and help overcome some of these issues is called ‘Unlocked’. This scheme encourages graduates from a wide range of universities to go into work in the prison service, working as prison officers, for two years. The aim of this is to improve recruitment levels in the prison service and to get new people interested, some of whom will chose to remain in the prison service, and all of whom are fresh new faces. This change in recruitment has led to more women than normal going into the profession, but also a wider range of people from different educational and social backgrounds, who may have a much-needed new perspective to put across on how things have been traditionally being done within the prisons.
In addition to this, after the two years, those who choose to leave the prison service and pursue their careers elsewhere are encouraged to continue to spread the ethos of the scheme. This includes advocating for the employment and support of those who have come out of the prison system to help reduce rates of re-offending. Currently, 44% of adult prisoners re-offend, which is very expensive for the country. The Unlocked website states that in 2015 the cost of ‘detecting, sentencing and imprisoning people who have already been through the system’ was around £15 billion.
Yet another benefit of the scheme is that during the two years in the prison service, graduates are able to complete their masters degree, as well as gaining a wealth of experience! A specially created MSc in Leadership and Custodial Environments is fully funded through the programme whilst the graduates are earning a salary in the prisons.
Most graduates probably wouldn’t consider going to work in a prison, managing the challenging and sometimes frightening behaviour of many of the prisoners. Many graduates will have no previous experience of an environment such as a prison and going into such a role must be a huge challenge to take on. Perhaps surprisingly then, more than 600 applied for the first cohort, of which 50 were successful, completing their training in August of this year, and are currently working in the country’s prisons.
For more information about the scheme got to: http://unlockedgrads.org.uk/#