Skip to content

Students share experiences of becoming full-time prison officers during unique and challenging placement year

Students from Nottingham Trent University have been sharing their experiences of working as full-time prison officers at HMP Lowdham Grange, managed by Serco on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, during the pandemic.

Sam Phillips (21), Connor Wilcox (21) and Petrut Chiriac (20) worked in the prison for their BA (Hons) Criminology placement year, as part of the only partnership of its kind in the UK.

They carried out many of the same duties as the permanent officers, including assisting with the distribution of medications for prisoners, surveillance of the landings during association times, dealing with prisoner enquiries, key worker support sessions to ensure the welfare and safety of each prisoner, moving prisoners to different areas, and dealing aggressive situations and diffusing them if possible.

Talking about his time within the prison, Sam Phillips, said: “I decided to apply for the placement because I am interested in going into the criminal justice field after I have graduated so I thought working in a prison would give me a chance to see how I am in that sort of environment and see if that career is really for me. Saying I have worked in a prison for a year at my young age would also make me stand out from other candidates.

“When I first walked onto a wing it was a bit intimidating as you don't really know how you are going to react when you are in that situation. And obviously the first thing they are going to notice is your age. But after about half an hour I was fine and felt comfortable.

“Every day is challenging in a different way, especially dealing with prisoner issues such as mental health and aggressive behaviour, but I have proven to myself that I can handle these difficult sorts of situations and deal with challenging individuals, which I think I would not have been able to see if I had not done this.”

Fellow student, Connor Wilcox, added: “I tried to not have any preconceived ideas of what it would be like working in the prison. I kept an open mind and just took things as they came to me. I also separated the idea of me being a student and working in a prison, I just wanted to work there and enjoy it.

“The highlights have been meeting so many people who are all different in their own way, including prisoners and staff. The staff I have worked with were all so welcoming from the start and made sure you felt and knew that they had your back at all times if needed. I have learnt a lot about myself and life in general working in a prison and have developed skills I will carry with me for the rest of my life that I can transfer to everyday life and all working environments.”

Petrut Chiriac, who along with the others will now enter his final year of study back at NTU, said: “I believed this placement would give me a very good perspective of how the prison service works and allow me to gain first-hand experience of how it effects our community and justice system. I wanted to come out of my comfort zone and experience the job of a prison officer, which most people don't know anything about.

“I found going from a student environment to a full-time working environment in a prison quite challenging but very interesting at the same time. As a prison officer there are many new challenges which arise every single day, like knowing and learning how to talk to prisoners and diffuse situations, and understating what to say to make the prisoner work with you.

“I have learnt a lot of things from this job. My communication skills and problem-solving skills have massively improved. I'm sure that the many skills that I've developed and learnt doing this job will help me not just in my future career but also my day-to-day life.”

NTU has placed up to six students at HMP Lowdham each year for the last three years. Paul Hamilton, principal lecturer at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This is always a very challenging but rewarding year for our students. They’re expected to work as a permanent prison officer would, which is very unique in terms of a placement opportunity but one that they relish.

“We have a strong partnership with Serco at HMP Lowdham Grange - for example, we have run a Learning Together programme together over a number of years. These opportunities are designed so that their studies can inform their practice, which can then feed into their final year learning. They grow in confidence and ability and it really sets them apart from other candidates when they’re looking for employment after graduation.”

Mark Hanson, Serco Prison Director at HMP Lowdham Grange, said: “It has been a privilege to have these young people come and work with us at the prison.  Not only do they learn a great deal about prisons and the justice system, but they have been a valuable addition to our team.  We are looking forward to the next group joining us.”