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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Promising new prisoner education and employment strategy

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Commitment to make prison work more employer relevant and to expand ROTL for more work placements in the community.

Employment in custody and on release

Last week (24 May 2018) Justice Secretary David Gauke launched a new Education and Employment strategy which sets out new measures to boost prisoners’ skills while in custody and improve their chances of securing work on release. Although employment is recognised as a key factor in preventing reoffending, just 17% of offenders are currently in P45 employment a year after release.

In this strategy, education and training, work in custody, and the availability of employment opportunities in the community are highlighted as the key areas of focus in achieving this.

Prison governors will be given the power to commission education and training programmes which provide offenders with the skills that real-world employers are looking for. This will be tailored to meet specific labour market requirements in the prison’s local economy. Meanwhile a vocational route, the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway, will offer an alternative means of delivering training in custody which guarantees jobs on release.

There will also be a renewed focus on encouraging offenders to take up prison work, including piloting a new approach which better matches this activity to job opportunities in the local community. A consultation on how to get more risk-assessed prisoners out of their cells and into real workplaces, while on temporary licence (ROTL) was launched at the same time.

The strategy also sets out how offenders will be helped to find jobs on release – a major incentive to turn their backs on crime. A new body, the New Futures Network, will work side-by-side with employers to generate job opportunities.

I provide a brief summary of the strategy below.

The strategy is split into three main sections:

  1. Education and training in prison
  2. Prison Work
  3. Employment on release

Education and training in prison

The strategy acknowledges that too many prisoners are reaching the end of their sentence without securing basic skills in English and maths. Often, prison education has not been properly integrated into prison regimes. In addition, education has not been closely tailored to the requirements of employers or the needs of different cohorts of prisoners, with governors lacking the levers to manage performance.

The strategy sets out five key action points, reproduced in full below:

  • Establish consistency and minimum standards in a few key areas across the prison estate.
  • Empower governors to commission the education provision most likely to meet employers’ requirements and prisoners’ needs.
  • Provide the right tools and support to governors to make best use of these powers.
  • Establish the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway as a new vocational route for governors to make use of.
  • Couple greater powers for governors with greater accountability for performance.

Prison work

The strategy argues that work done by prisoners during their sentences also helps develop many of the skills and attributes needed on release, from a work ethic to vocational skills and that work within the prison walls can and should be complimented by placements in real workplaces, including through Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) where appropriate. Workplace ROTL gives prisoners a chance to prove they are skilled, hardworking and trustworthy.

The strategy acknowledges that prisoners need to gain the kind of experience that employers are looking for which requires a clear link between prison work and employment opportunities on release.The strategy sets out a vision that when an offender enters prison they are immediately put on a path to employment on release. This part of the strategy sets out two key action points:

  • Develop a new approach, through a partnership with The Clink, to link work done in prison services, such as cooking in prison kitchens, with employment on release.
  • Consult governors and employers on proposals to increase the opportunities available to prisoners to gain experience in real workplaces through ROTL.

Employment on release

At the heart of the strategy is the recognition that employment on release is a key component of a prisoner’s rehabilitation. The MoJ recognises that the job of delivering this does not stop at the prison gate. Ex-prisoners need supervision and support that is coherent and effective, particularly when they face multiple problems in their lives. Working with ex-prisoners is also only half the job. Employers in all sectors are also key partners – and must be persuaded that employing ex-prisoners will benefit their businesses.

In his speech launching the strategy, Justice Secretary David Gauke argued that properly prepared and supported prisoners could be key to addressing the many workforce gaps created by Brexit.  The key action points are:

  • Recruit ex-prisoners directly into the civil service, providing jobs and leading by example to other employers.
  • Consider how to take forward a NICs holiday alongside wider work on employer obligations and incentives.
  • Launch the New Futures Network (NFN) to engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners, with experts placed in every geographical prison group in a phased roll-out across England and Wales.
  • Work with DWP to explore ways to deliver enhancements to the current benefit claim process so that ex-prisoners have easier access to financial support on the day of release where needed.
  • Provide incentives for prisons and NPS/CRCs to work together more effectively in the future on employment on release.

Conclusions

Overall the strategy was positively received by penal and offender employment experts, both for its content and the tone in which it was launched. This optimism was tempered somewhat by the lack of specific targets and information about what, if any, spending will support the strategy and from what other MoJ activities it will be taken.

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