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Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

5. What proportion of prisoners were not in work or education programmes in the last period for which figures are available. (202047)

I do not measure the figures in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has requested, but I can tell him that provisional data for 2007-08 indicate that, on average, per prisoner, 7.7 hours of education and 12.5 hours of work activity were undertaken each week.

Obviously that sounds absolutely marvellous, but the Minister will be aware that one of his colleagues said in a written answer that I believe was given yesterday that the average prisoner does 36 minutes a day of vocational training. We all know that prisoners are half to a third less likely to reoffend if they can get a job afterwards. How much more productively could the remaining 23 hours 24 minutes be used?

On average, each prisoner will undertake more than 25 hours of purposeful activity each week. That does not include just work or education; it could include issues related to preparation for release or a range of matters concerned with assessment of their offending behaviour. A considerable amount of work is being carried out at local level. We are looking strongly at the idea of working wings and at working with private sector partners such as Cisco and Bovis to help to support employment.

As the hon. Gentleman recognises, employment, skill levels and training are key to helping people to get back into work on their eventual release from prison. Last year, we undertook some 12 million hours of work in prison industries, producing £30 million of goods, and thousands upon thousands of prisoners underwent vocational training to learn important skills for their release.

Does my hon. Friend agree that finding opportunities to improve education and creativity in unique ways is essential? Will he join me in welcoming the opening on 22 May of the Hay literary festival in Parc prison? A 10-day literary festival will be launched, with two books written by past and present prisoners in Parc, so the Hay literary festival will be in the prison as an outreach. Is that not a unique opportunity to promote reading and writing among prisoners and to give them the chance to enjoy new literature?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. As she knows, I visited Parc prison last year and found it to be an effective centre in addressing literacy, numeracy and vocational training. She will know the importance of community outreach: representing outside events in prison is an important way to maintain links between prisoners and the community. I commend the fact that some prisoners are using their time productively to learn new skills and to contribute to things that they may do when they leave prison. I hope to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency again later this year.

I pay tribute to the Minister and to the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), for their commitment to helping to enhance the education of prisoners who suffer from dyslexia and dyspraxia. Will the Minister work with other Departments to seek to spread to other prisons the pilot scheme that has been going on in Chelmsford prison, from within the prison system, to reduce levels of illiteracy and to enhance the ability of those suffering from dyslexia to learn to read and write so that when they leave prison their enhanced educational capacity means that they are less likely to reoffend?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point in that way. He will know that I visited Chelmsford prison in July last year and met here in the House later in the year some of his constituents who are involved in schemes in the prison to help to raise literacy and numeracy levels. The work that is undertaken in Chelmsford, often by voluntary organisations, is key to helping the prison service to raise the basic level of literacy and numeracy for individuals in prison. The House will know that many prisoners enter prison with low levels of literacy and numeracy, and low levels of self-esteem as a result. One way to help prevent them reoffending is to ensure that we raise their skill levels, especially if they have conditions such as dyslexia. We focus especially on how to raise their skill levels to help them to obtain employment in the community.

Many constituents who write to me in support of longer jail sentences also favour effective forms of prison-based rehabilitation through work and education. However, while the problem with drug supply in prisons persists, the presence and menace of highly addictive narcotics militates against such provision. What role does the Minister think that the zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prison, advocated by the Prison Officers Association, has in offering all prisoners the real chance of rehabilitation and recovery from addiction and of benefiting from the sort of work and education programmes to which the main question refers?

We have to do two things. The first is to try to prevent drugs from entering prison, and we have had great success with mandatory drug tests. Secondly, we must help prisoners to get off drugs while they are with us. Some 70 per cent. of prisoners enter prison with a drug problem, and there are always challenges with individuals trying to get drugs into prison. We have dogs, CCTV and the help and co-operation of the police, but we need to control it more, which is why we have recently commissioned a review to consider what else we can do.

Is the Minister aware that in Dartmoor recently a considerable number of prisoners who were undertaking education and rehabilitation programmes or who were out on work placements were summarily removed with virtually no notice and were moved to another prison hundreds of miles away? That undermined all the work that the prison officers had been doing and decreased the support of the outside companies that had been prepared to take people on work placements.

The hon. Gentleman will know that that issue was raised at the previous Question Time by the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) and another hon. Member whose name escapes me at the moment. I have written to them both recently, and will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of that letter. It explains the circumstances and what we are trying to do to compensate Dartmoor and to re-sort the arrangements.