Training scheme to recruit graduates as prison officers to launch
A scheme aiming to attract top graduates to become prison officers will be unveiled on Wednesday.
The two-year programme will see participants complete a masters degree while working on the frontline alongside existing jail staff.
Those joining the initiative will be paid the same entry level salary as other prison officers - currently £20,545 a year nationally.
On completion of the two years, participants will either continue to work in the prison service - or use their experience to join other public sector organisations or the private sector, organisers said.
The initiative is being launched by Unlocked, an independent charity, and is backed by Justice Secretary Liz Truss.
She said: "Prison officers are some of our finest public servants. It is a unique role, which is both challenging and rewarding.
"There are very few jobs where you genuinely get the opportunity to reform and transform the lives of offenders, and the lives of their families, creating a safer society.
"I want to ensure that we attract the most talented and dedicated individuals, from the widest possible pool, and I want to see improved promotion and leadership opportunities for all our prison staff. Our officers play a crucial role in implementing our ambitious prison reform programme."
Plans for a training scheme to attract "high calibre" graduates to work in prisons were first outlined during the tenure of Ms Truss's predecessor Michael Gove.
The launch comes at a time of huge turbulence in jails in England and Wales following a spate of major disturbances, including a riot at HMP Birmingham last week.
Dwindling staffing levels have repeatedly been highlighted by campaigners and union bosses amid soaring levels of violence and self-harm behind bars.
The influx of graduates is separate to a recruitment drive announced by Ms Truss to add 2,500 officers to the frontline.
Applications for the new scheme, which will seek to replicate other public sector recruitment initiatives such as Teach First, will open on January 9.
The first set of 45 graduates will start work in prisons in August, following an intensive assessment programme and training scheme during the summer.
The names of the jails, which will be either Category B or Category C facilities, will be published in the new year.
Natasha Porter, chief executive of Unlocked, said: "Prison officers are too often seen as 'turn-keys'. The opposite is true.
"They deal with some of the most challenging situations and work with some of the most vulnerable people in society. They are effectively mentors, councillors, teachers, police officers and social workers.
"The aim of Unlocked is to help raise the status of the profession and to help reduce reoffending.
"While many of the scheme's participants will stay and develop long-term roles within the prison system, others will go into the outside world and act as ambassadors to drive forward rehabilitation.
"The skills they will learn working in such a challenging environment will make them a valuable asset for any organisation."