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Offenders (Skills)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 9 June 2011

6. What steps he plans to take to provide relevant skills to offenders to enable them to find work when they leave prison. (57782)

16. What steps he plans to take to provide offenders with relevant skills and training in order to help them find work when they leave prison. (57794)

On 18 May, to great acclaim, I launched “Making prisons work: skills for rehabilitation”, the report on offender learning that I commissioned last summer. It sets out a substantial programme of reform to increase the positive impact of offender learning on reoffending rates and on former prisoners’ capacity to reintegrate successfully into civil society.

The Minister will be aware of the good work of National Grid in providing work opportunities to offenders upon release. Does he recognise the common complaint that too many offenders have not been trained with the right work skills to make them employable on release? What are the Government going to do about that?

Yes, I do recognise that, which was why, in the review that I published, we put the emphasis on employability skills. For someone to leave the life of crime, another life must pay for them, which means getting and keeping a job. I met National Grid this week, actually, to discuss skills issues, and I congratulate it on its work and my hon. Friend on championing the issue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the longer the period for which an offender is able to benefit from training programmes, the more likely it is that they can acquire the skills necessary to find work when they leave custody?

I learned early on never to stray outside my purview or pitch above my pay grade. Suffice it to say that progression is critical, so what people learn in prison must be progressive. They must be able to take up and complete their studies when they leave, so that they can get qualified, get a job and get on.

In Strangeways, in my constituency, which I have no reason to think atypical, 80% of prisoners are illiterate. Would not the biggest impact that this or any other Government could make be to have an intensive literacy programme for prisoners? That is the best way to get them back into work.

Yes, I agree. If the hon. Gentleman studies my report, he will see that prior attainment tests, which ensure that what we do in prisons matches real need, and the concentration on core skills that he describes, are critical in ensuring value for money, but also in ensuring that people get value from what we spend. I agree that core skills are critical, and they will form an important part of what we do from now on.

Citizens advice bureaux have successfully piloted financial capability projects to aid the rehabilitation process. What plans does the Minister have to roll out that provision, because it could play a vital role in reducing reoffending rates?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has studied that matter rather closely. If he would like to come and speak to me and my colleagues about that particular aspect of offender learning, I would be happy for him to do so. He is right that those life skills, as well as the core skills and the employability skills that we have described in this short discussion, enable people to reintegrate into civil society in a way that is good for them, but also good for all of us because we must tackle recidivism.