Case study: MoJ opens up about reality of youth prison

The comms team at the Ministry of Justice decided that honesty was the best policy when trying to recruit youth custody officers, by being open about the challenges of the work, in a campaign that has boosted recruitment.

Case study: MoJ opens up about reality of youth prison

Their brief was to increase the number of people applying for youth custody prison officer posts, with a specific aim of helping fill vacancies at five different sites in the Youth Custody Service (YCS).

A key aim was to create a pipeline of candidates who were highly motivated to work with young people.

Typically most staff working in youth custody have come from retail or customer service backgrounds, with just one in seven identifying working with young people as a motivating factor in their career choice.

The YCS was set up last year, as part of reforms to the youth justice system, amid warnings from Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, that youth custody centres were so unsafe that a "tragedy" was "inevitable."

And last November a report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons stated that staffing shortages in youth custody were resulting in young people being locked in cells for more than 22 hours a day.

Working with younger offenders has its own challenges that might be different, but are no less difficult than working with adult prisoners, according to the MoJ.

Against this background, the government department’s ‘See the truth. See the potential’ recruitment campaign took the approach of facing up to the difficulties of working with challenging and vulnerable young people.

The campaign was launched in April this year and highlighted some key facts as a way of showing the challenges of working in youth custody.

These included the fact that 38 per cent of young people in custody have been in care, one in three suffer from mental health issues, and half of the 15- to 17-year-olds in youth custody have the numeracy and literacy levels expected of primary schoolchildren.

Specialist channels were used to target those with a background in working with children, or an interest in social care, including volunteers in children’s sports and charities.

An opportunity to make a difference in a young person’s life, the commitment by the YCS to putting children and young people at the heart of all that they do, and having a career with excellent training and opportunities for development, were the key messages.

Campaign materials included web content featuring short films focusing on the challenges of dealing with young people in prison, a Facebook page to encourage dialogue with potential applicants, and case studies of prison staff who help young people.

The volume of applications, as well as the number of candidates who cited ‘working with young people’ as the main reason for applying, were used to measure the success of the campaign.

The first six weeks of the campaign saw more than 1,600 applications for jobs in the YCS – with three of the five sites filling their vacancies.

In addition, there was a seven per cent rise in applicants with previous experience of working with young people.

More than half a million people were reached by the campaign in the four weeks after it launched.

And the success of the campaign saw it singled out by the Government Communication Service as its campaign of the month in October.

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