Jocelyn Hillman is the founder of Working Chance which supports women with criminal convictions to find quality work with mainstream employers, helping them break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage and crime. She is the latest contributor to a guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove. You can follow @WorkingChance on Twitter.
If I were Justice Secretary
Over 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment each year and only 9% of these are looked after by their fathers. Keeping children in care while their mothers are incarcerated is not only extremely expensive, but also a major risk factor for future offending: young people who are in care are four and a half times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system than those who aren’t.
As employment is proven to reduce reoffending, the Ministry of Justice must focus on creating job opportunities for women with convictions, empowering them to stay out of prison and break the intergenerational cycle of deprivation and crime.
Lead by example
My first priority as Justice Secretary would be to lead by example, hiring an ex-offender as my diary secretary. By employing women with convictions the government could reduce reoffending at no cost to the taxpayer, while also creating life-changing opportunities for some of the most marginalised people in our society.
I would ensure that ex-offenders were included in the Ministry’s diversity quotas and that my staff, from top to bottom, were engaged in understanding the importance of inclusive hiring practices. I would also ensure all government contractors were obliged to implement the same measures.
Train for the future, not the past
Women in prison need training for 21stcentury careers in which there are real job openings. In 2011 the UK taxpayer funded 94,000 hair and beauty qualifications, despite the fact that there were only 18,000 vacancies in the industry. Serving prisoners need to learn data analysis and computer programming – not hairdressing.
As Justice Secretary, I would incentivise the creation of contracts between prisons and private sector firms, so prisoners could develop the IT skills which are vital to finding well-paid work on release.
Finally, I would do my utmost to ensure that women leaving prison could no longer be considered intentionally homeless. Despite the strong correlation between homelessness and reoffending, London boroughs are currently entitled to deny ex-offenders housing support on the principle that they have effectively chosen to lose their homes by spending time in custody. To make matters worse, the few hostels available to homeless women in London are not required to prioritise those leaving prison. Being homeless makes it practically impossible to find a job.
I recognise how difficult it is for politicians to speak rationally about the criminal justice system in the run up to a general election. It is vital, however, that politics are taken out of the criminal justice system and replaced with a good dose of common sense. The next government must first of all change its own attitude towards people with convictions, leading by example in breaking down prejudice and preconceptions.
As Justice Secretary, I would start hiring women with convictions, empowering them to become role models for their children and making our communities nicer, safer places to live and work.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be. Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling