|Politics, Economics and Philosophy|
|Politics and Philosophy|
|Graduate Prison Officer|
|HMPPS & Unlocked Graduates|
|Government and civil service|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
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A day in the life of a Graduate Prison Officer in the United Kingdom
My interest in law and justice drew me towards the justice sector, but I knew that my interpersonal and critical thinking skills were better suited away from a desk-job.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
Whilst I am officially employed by Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, the organisation that placed, trained, and further supports me is Unlocked Graduates. Unlocked is supported by Catch 22, a social business that aims to improve society by tackling various issues. The aim of Unlocked is to reduce reoffending rates by training graduates and placing them in UK prisons, giving them the skills to identify and invoke change in the system where it is needed. Unlocked also fully funds an Msc course, further qualifying their graduates to make meaningful changes in our roles.
What do you do?
I work full time as a front line prison officer. My duties revolve around ensuring the safety of both inmates and colleagues, the rehabilitation of those in our care, and contributing to the smooth and efficient operation of the prison. Alongside this, I am studying the fully-funded Msc that Unlocked provides for those on the course. The Masters is specifically designed to give the knowledge and skills required to allow graduate officers to effectively carry out our duties, impart a greater understanding of the custodial environment, and hopefully become the future leaders and policy makers of HMPPS.
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
Before leaving university I had almost no idea of what my next steps would be. I knew I wanted to continue with education, but also wanted to begin establishing myself in a specialised field. My interest in law and justice drew me towards the justice sector, but I knew that my interpersonal and critical thinking skills were better suited away from a desk-job. Finding an opportunity that offered the further education, the interpersonal element, and the opportunities for progression was a dream come true.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
I had always hoped to enter some branch of the civil service, but I wasn't sure which. A lot of my course mates applied to the Civil Service Fast Stream, but I found the opportunities offered there didnt match my ambitions. I'd always planned to go into a policy advisory role, but thought it beneficial to gain vocational experience of the area first. The Criminal Justice System had always interested me, so in that sense it's not different at all. However, if you'd have asked my friends or family what I'd have been doing after uni, being a Prison Officer would've been their last guess!
Describe your most memorable day at work
We had a really aggressive man in our care, he would often try to instigate fights with other residents and even staff. No one was really sure what was causing the aggression, but everyone had their own assumptions. One day I was assigned to be his key worker, and I was dreading it. I went to speak to him and was told to leave him alone (in less pleasant terms), so I did, but I came back the next day to try again. I carried this on for about a week before he finally agreed to chat. I took him aside and used methods we'd learnt during our Msc lectures to have a productive conversation. After about 40 minutes I had a list of things he needed sorted, but I actually understood why he had been acting out. Within days I'd sorted 90% of his list. He could now contact his parents, apply to have clothes sent into the establishment, and start an English language course, all things he'd wanted to do, but felt like none of the staff would take the time to help with. His attitude on the wing completely changed, and 6 months on he's now a Samaritans trained Listener for other residents who are in need of help.
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
This role is definitely not for everyone, in fact it's probably not for most people. Obviously prisons are not the funnest place to work, and you may see and experience things that you'd never dream of coming across in most jobs. It goes without saying that you need pretty thick skin to work in such an environment. However, these challenges are all for a reason. Most jobs may not be as challenging as this, but most jobs are probably not as rewarding either. To help teach someone better literacy skills, enabling them to write to their children is an amazing feeling. To help someone reconnect with family and move on from past experiences gives a sense of great accomplishment. Receiving a letter from a released inmate thanking you for helping to turn their life around puts every challenge you face into context, and they pale in comparison. And equally, the comradery you feel with each and every member of staff is something that you'll rarely find in any other line of work.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
There's no single word to summarise such a dynamic, volatile, unpredictable, and changing environment. Whilst working in a prison is nothing like what you'd see on television, you have to be prepared for anything and everything. Fortunately, the environment is never too daunting due to the culture of the staff. I've never experienced such a close-knit team. We all rely on each other, and you come to see them like a large, loving, if not slightly dysfunctional family. There are some elements to the culture which may be seen as outdated, but as with any workplace, the culture is slowly beginning to change and adapt to the times.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
Whilst at York I joined the Fencing team, and acted as Treasurer for the York Politics Society. I can undoubtedly say that being a part of these societies gave me a lot of skills which were viewed favourably by many employers. Even just showing that I engaged with the university beyond my academia was something that a lot of employers found appealing. I would definitely advise everyone to explore any extracurricular activities they get the opportunity to, it will never be a waste of time.
What would you like to do next with your career?
My original intention was to become a policy advisor, perhaps in the Ministry of Justice or some other area of the civil service. However Unlocked has many great career progression routes that I am now considering. Staying in the prison service wasn't something I'd considered before, but with pathways to governor roles and prison inspectorate positions, that has definitely changed. As well as that, Unlocked has great relationships with companies like Google, PWC, Apple, and bodies such as the Ministry of Justice, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Intelligence Services. With their dedicated careers advisors, Unlocked is helping me plan for my future career and is making it a stress free experience.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
Of course be selective and realistic, but also be flexible. You never know what job opportunities might come about, and don't be too quick to dismiss any options. Trust me, prison officer was not something I'd even thought about before, and if I'd have dismissed the opportunity without researching into it a bit further, I would definitely have missed out on an amazing job.
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
Practically anything. Whether it's university, job applications, interviews, or the justice sector, I'll be as open as I can about my experiences, and try to answer any questions to the best of my ability.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Trying to find a job after university can be a tricky, daunting, and frustrating time. It can really take it's toll on students and add to an already large amount of stress and anxiety. You're not alone in this though, 90% of students will be in the same boat as you. It may take longer than you'd like, but eventually you'll find the role that's perfect for you.
If you like the look of Daniel’s profile, the next steps are down to you! You can send Daniel a message to find out more about their career journey. If you feel you would benefit from more in-depth conversations, ask Daniel to be your mentor.