A new graduate scheme offering a fully funded Masters, a focus on policy and the chance to make a difference aims to change graduate perceptions of prison work. Deren, an LSE Social Policy graduate and Unlocked prison officer, shares her story
What made you consider becoming a prison officer?
When I started reading up on the role, I realised I could do the job. I applied to the Unlocked graduate scheme because of my own personal experience of having those I care about imprisoned. For me, the effects of imprisonment go beyond focusing on the person in custody - there also needs to be a focus on the family and friends of prisoners.
What's a typical day like?
I work as a prison officer in a big London jail. It's an unusual and challenging environment and there's no such thing as a typical day. My shift is determined by the regime of the prison - I could be working on the wing, unlocking prisoners for work and education, inducting new arrivals, escorting a prisoner or completing security checks.
Every day-to-day interaction, no matter how mundane, is a chance to make a small difference - building trusting relationships with the men in my care means I can help them make different choices in the long term.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The most challenging aspect of my job is keeping prisoners safe. This includes considering the effects of gang violence, understanding power dynamics and even the impact of visitors on the wing.
Keeping prisoners safe also includes working with vulnerable people who are at risk of self-harm and suicide. It's no understatement that prison holds some of the most vulnerable people in society. This is one of the biggest motivators of my role, as I want to work hard to protect those at risk.
Prison officer isn't a typical graduate job. What opportunities does it offer?
Unlocked offered an amazing salary and a fully funded Masters. Being on a graduate scheme was particularly important for me as I wanted to have that support in my initial years and learn in a supportive environment.
Unlocked also offers a variety of development opportunities during the scheme, as well as ongoing support once the scheme is complete. This includes contributing to a policy paper which is sent to the Ministry of Justice. It was also this emphasis on policy making that drew me to the Unlocked programme. I'm a firm believer in bottom-up approaches to policy making.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying to Unlocked?
Do it! It's an amazing job where you'll learn to be extremely resilient to a difficult environment. Make sure you surround yourself with positive people who you can speak to about the challenges you're facing. Your fellow Unlocked officers will be there for you and, even with all the challenges, the Unlocked scheme offers amazing mentoring throughout the two years and has enabled me to push myself every step of the way.