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Prison Work Programmes

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

6. What progress has been made on increasing the number of private and third sector organisations involved in work programmes in prisons. (202049)

Since the launch of the Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending, we have established links with many employers and, as was noted in the Ministry of Justice’s prison policy update published in January, we want to expand and further develop these links. I will undertake a ministerial-led forum with the private, public and third sectors in May to discuss how we can further work together.

That is indeed good news. I am glad to hear of the work that my right hon. Friend is doing. Does he agree that it is a concern that the Prison Service might have to impose a core day on all closed prisons? That would mean less time for prisoners to carry out such activities, which are so vital to their rehabilitation. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that there is sufficient time for those excellent activities to take place?

The proposals for the core day to which my hon. Friend refers try to reorganise the operation of the Prison Service to meet the needs of the prison and the needs caused by challenging financial circumstances. We are looking at how to ensure that the same amount of time is invested in prisoners’ rehabilitation and employment and in developing their other skills, but in a different time frame during the course of the week. I do not expect that prisoners will lose out as a result of the changes.

Is the Minister aware that City livery companies—not least my own, the Worshipful Company of Weavers—provide considerable assistance to Her Majesty’s prisons, particularly in the purchase of equipment that enables meaningful training and other work to go on in prison? Will the Minister further encourage the work of the livery companies of this country? They often do work in prisons, which is unheralded but worthwhile, to help those who need help.

I pay tribute to the work of the livery companies and the many private sector companies that consider what help they can give to support the work of prison industries and to help with employment and training opportunities outside prison. I want to make links with livery companies, businesses, small businesses, local government and national Government to ensure that we can try to match skills acquired in prison with placements for employment outside prison. Employment is key to preventing reoffending.

Is the Minister aware of the work of Safe Ground, a voluntary organisation that works with prisoners’ families to help them to plan their future after incarceration? Will he consider how families can be involved in helping rehabilitation and reducing reoffending?

I would be grateful to learn more about that organisation from my hon. Friend. Her point is vital. Having links and maintaining contact with families, as well as hopefully maintaining that contact after people are released from prison, are extremely important. It is a sad fact that many children of prisoners go on to a life of crime. We need to do a tremendous amount of intensive work to maintain family links and to support families’ contact with prisoners.

Is it not the reality that the chief inspector of prisons has said that there is insufficient purposeful activity in prisons and that she assessed no closed male prison as performing well? Could the Minister provide or put in the Library the statistics on the amount of purposeful activity in each of our prisons so that we can see which prisons are performing well and which are not? These questions have a sort of “Groundhog Day” quality about them. Until we try to work out who is doing well and who is not, we will continue to go around this track.

That is a very helpful suggestion, and I will certainly look at whether we can produce those figures for individual prisons. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, prisoners in the system in England and Wales spend 25.3 hours a week on average in purposeful activity, including education, training, work, preparation for release, effective courses and community work on a range of matters. I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, and if possible, I will take up his very helpful idea.