Dec 20, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The wildly successful Teach First initiative has become the UK’s biggest graduate recruiter, sending thousands of new teachers into the workforce every year with teaching and leadership training aimed at changing student lives. Now, a new program aims to apply the same concept to prison officer training. Read on for a closer look at Unlocked Graduates.

Introducing Unlocked Graduates

According to its website, “Unlocked is a unique two-year leadership development programme aimed at training graduates to become inspirational and supportive leaders.” 

The scheme’s goal? To “change the way we develop society’s future leaders, as well as how we think about prisons and prisoners by focusing on rehabilitation, and addressing the terrible damage and cost of reoffending.” 

Fixing a Broken System

“Reoffending is a blight on the UK,” proposes Unlocked Graduates. “Damaging, disruptive and enormously costly, it wastes potential, fractures families and communities, and costs the UK billions of pounds every year. And, to a large extent, it’s preventable.”

The numbers speak for themselves: Not only do 44 percent of adults reoffend within a year of release, but this percentage spikes to 59 percent for offenders serving short (less than a year) sentences. In sum, the UK could save as much as a billion pounds every year if just 1,800 fewer prisoners reoffended. 

Certainly, Unlocked Graduates participants have challenges ahead of them, but there are also plenty of rewards. As one of its first cohorts told The Guardian, “I love my job. I thought I’d find it fascinating, but I actually love it. People think of prison officers as bouncers who just turn keys and shout orders. But you couldn’t have a more caring, diverse and challenging job: I come into work every morning not knowing if I’ll be on healthcare, education, behind a desk or on the landing, where I might be a negotiator, leader, counselor, educator or role model.”

Added a tenured prison officer of the contributions of Unlocked Graduates, “They’re great. They bring fresh eyes and minds to a prison system that has traditionally been primarily about discipline and rigidity. They’re so confident and positive. They see solutions where traditionally, the prison system has just seen problems.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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