Youth prison officer recruitment drive targets social workers

Joe Lepper
Thursday, October 12, 2017

A prison officer graduate recruitment scheme is expanding into the youth secure estate, targeting social workers and teachers looking for a change of career.

The first recruits from the Unlocked Graduates scheme will be deployed into two youth custody establishments in Kent. Picture: Unlocked
The first recruits from the Unlocked Graduates scheme will be deployed into two youth custody establishments in Kent. Picture: Unlocked

The Unlocked Graduates scheme already offers graduates a two-year master's degree to become a prison officer in adult settings and has announced this will be extended into youth prisons.

Unlocked said it is keen to attract social workers and teachers with experience of supporting challenging children to the scheme. It said the aim of the initiative is to improve support for vulnerable young people held in custody, reduce reoffending, and improve rehabilitation.

The scheme's expansion comes amid concerns around rising levels of violence in the secure youth estate.

The first recruits will be deployed into two youth custody establishments in Kent where inspectors have previously raised concerns around safeguarding, Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution, which houses boys and aged between 15 and 18, and Medway Secure Training Centre, which accommodates male and female young people aged between 12 and 18.

In January prison inspectors highlighted levels of violence at Cookham Wood, some of which was considered serious and included assaults on staff.

Medway, which was taken over by the government due to concerns of the unnecessary use of force by staff, was rated as "inadequate" by Ofsted in  June for the second time in less than a year. Inspectors said that child protection is "not managed effectively" meaning young people "are not sufficiently safeguarded".

"There is a direct the line from people in prison to those who were failed in childhood - whether by family circumstances, schools or other institutions," Natasha Porter, chief executive of Unlocked Graduates said.

"Our graduates are already in adult and women's prisons and the need is even more urgent for young people. I want to encourage experts who have already honed their skills in the community to bring that expertise into the youth prisons estate."

Unlocked Graduate recruits will study for a master's degree while working as a frontline prison officer as well as researching new ideas for a policy paper.

"The safety and welfare of every young person in custody is our absolute priority and we are clear that more needs to be done to achieve this," youth justice minister Phillip Lee said.

"Just like the adult estate, it is vital that we boost the ratio of staff to young offenders, these newly trained specialist youth justice workers will be equipped to tackle the needs of young offenders.

"I am looking forward to seeing these reforms in action and to seeing how the new Unlocked Graduates can help transform the youth estate."

In July the annual report of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons raised concerns about the levels of violence in youth custody and said the situation was so dangerous that a tragedy is "inevitable".

The government is hoping to recruit 2,500 new prison officers by next year and in August announced there had been a net increase of 868 new officers since January.

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