Transform Case Studies: Unlocked

Written by Ellen, Youth Prison Officer with Unlocked Graduates, Law LLB (2018)

Since leaving Bristol…

I applied for Unlocked Graduates in my third year of University. At this point, though I had loved studying law, I knew I did not want to practice. I wanted to work directly with those affected by the criminal justice system and to change society for the better, still using my knowledge but via alternate means. I discovered the Unlocked Graduate Scheme in a careers email sent by the Law Department and was immediately interested given the scheme’s focus upon fostering social change within prisons in order to limit reoffending. I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t even get an interview and was surprised when I was contacted a few weeks after submitting my application to attend an assessment day.

From then onwards, I completed the recruitment process and was lucky enough to be placed within a Young Offenders Institution, working with incarcerated 15-18 year olds.

In my current job…

I work as a prison officer in a Young Offenders Institution in Kent on behalf of Unlocked Graduates. Unlocked is a graduate scheme which hopes to change the face of the prison service to a more rehabilitative focus by placing graduates within prisons to work as officers directly with offenders. Graduates are encouraged to set up initiatives within their institution in order to improve opportunities for prisoners and as part of the programme undertake a masters in Leadership within Custodial Environments alongside to help change policy within the prison service.

In my current role, I work directly with 15-18 year olds in prison. The majority of the cohort I work with are heavily involved in gangs, hence my work on the ground often revolves around minimising gang conflict within the establishment and acting as a positive role model, encouraging individuals to take advantage of opportunities to prevent the revolving door of young offenders to adult estate. On a daily basis, given the age of this cohort, I am presented with a variety of different issues which require me to take on a multitude of roles to help resolve issues faced by the young people. I love this versatility as it requires me to exercise a variety of people-centred skills to address problems or concerns facing the young people.

As a result of opportunities offered by Unlocked, I am currently setting up a scheme within my establishment which aims to equip the young men I work with, with skills to pursue employment post-release. Furthermore, I am helping to set up a conference with other Unlocked Graduates in order to address issues surrounding gang conflict within UK Prisons.

Having a UoB degree…

Studying law at Bristol opened my eyes to so many issues and problems which are associated with the UK Legal System. The variety of courses offered in my second and third year enabled me to focus upon how the law engages directly with people through policy and practice. It forced me to examine governmental policy critically and how its effects were translated in the legal system. This made me want to try and change things for the better on the ground, for the individuals affected by it.

Furthermore, the law department’s wide range of extra-curricular opportunities enabled me to pursue my interests associated with the legal system and taught me a wide range of skills, which are useful in my current profession. I learnt discipline, as I had to balance a wide range of activities alongside a very difficult degree, gained ease with public speaking via mooting and debating and leadership skills as a project leader on the Human Rights Clinic.


I think particularly in the summer of your second year, it is a good idea to realistically think about what you want to do after university. For me, this was crucial as I had by this point worked out that I didn’t think that I wanted to practice law, so I went into the third year already looking for different options. Have a think about the attributes you can offer to an organisation – and be creative with your experiences. For instance, what skills have you developed via extra-curriculars or experiences outside studying. Even if you don’t have direct working experience, I think that fleshing out your own experiences and actually tailoring them to the job criteria can really put you at a good advantage because often people just put what they think employers want to hear but don’t take the time to thoroughly read what the employers have stated they want.

Another top tip I would give is to be bold – I honestly did not think I would even get a look in by Unlocked; it was so different from anything my friends were doing and looked incredibly challenging. Now, almost a year in, I am so thankful that I had the courage to apply; I have been able to develop a multitude of skills, work with some of the most challenging people in society and help make a positive difference in my establishment.

Finally, make sure that you don’t panic! If you aren’t successful in any of your applications, focus on your studies! I gave myself the cut off of February in third year and decided if I hadn’t got an offer by that point, I would leave things because ultimately a good degree will go miles in your favour.