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Employment of Ex-offenders

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2013

We have already ensured that prison leavers aged over 18 who claim jobseeker’s allowance on release or shortly afterwards are referred to the Work programme immediately. We have also introduced work in prisons on a much larger scale than before, providing offenders with the real work experiences. Our transforming rehabilitation reforms will see new rehabilitation providers working to tackle the root causes of offending by using innovative approaches such as mentoring and by helping ex-offenders to find housing, training and employment.

Will my hon. Friend tell me what happens to those offenders who are foreign nationals once they have completed their period in prison? Do we deport them and, if not, why not?

We most certainly do seek to deport foreign national offenders, and my hon. Friend will be encouraged to learn that 4,500 or so were deported during the last year for which we have figures. However, we also think it important to remove such offenders while they are still serving their sentences if that is possible, which is why we seek to negotiate compulsory prisoner transfer agreements such as the one that we signed with Albania in January. We are working towards a similar arrangement with Nigeria. We want offenders to leave our shores, during the currency of their sentences if possible but otherwise immediately thereafter, because the right place for foreign criminals is not in our country but back in their own.

What involvement does the Minister expect the voluntary and community sector to have, and how does he expect it to dovetail with the Work programme in helping ex-offenders to find stable jobs? More importantly, how does he expect it to work for the purpose of resettlement, which, as we know and as the Select Committee said in its report, plays a major role in diverting people from reoffending?

As my hon. Friend says, and as the Select Committee has made clear, resettlement is hugely important. We agree that the voluntary and community sector can play a major role, and we think it important for that role to begin while offenders are still serving the custodial part of their sentences. The reforms that we have in mind will enable those who are dealing with rehabilitation to make contact with offenders early, and to see them through the prison gates and out into the community. One of the main ways in which we expect them to help offenders to go straight and stay straight is by finding jobs for them to do, for, as we know, keeping a job is one of the best ways of keeping out of crime.

The Minister is doubtless aware of National Grid’s young offender programme, under which 80 companies are now delivering training and jobs to those who are heading towards release. Does not a reoffending rate of less than 7% suggest that private providers can play a big part in the rehabilitation revolution?

I certainly think that it demonstrates that a range of different organisations have a significant part to play. I am familiar with what National Grid does, and I know that it does an extremely good job. One of the questions that it has raised with me is whether there are better ways of enabling it to work with offenders in a limited number of prisons. I think that the restructuring of the prison estate that we have in mind, which will ensure that prisoners can be released into the community from only a certain number of prisons, will help it to do even more good work along the lines that my hon. Friend has described.

How will the Minister engage ex-offenders in his plans for long-term mentoring even after they have found work? I believe that keeping a job and breaking the cycle of crime is essential to successful rehabilitation.

I agree that mentoring is likely to play a significant part in what providers choose to do in order to turn lives around. I also agree that involving ex-offenders is a good way to start to find the mentors whom we will need. A great deal of very effective mentoring already takes place in prisons, with older and more established prisoners mentoring younger and newer ones. We want that to continue outside the prison gates, so that we can provide the kind of support that my hon. Friend has described.

Dealing with alcohol misuse and dependency is a major problem for many ex-offenders who need to find work. What discussions is the Minister having with the Department of Health, and indeed with those who are likely to provide probation services in the future, about improving alcohol treatment in prisons and after prisoners have been released?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a hugely important issue. Given his knowledge of the subject, he will recognise that a consistent approach is also important. As I said a moment ago, the work should start while prisoners are in custody and continue as they go through the prison gates and out into the community, so that supervision and support for those with drug or alcohol problems can be maintained throughout the process to ensure that they do not relapse and go back to their old ways. We will certainly think about how we can engage with not just health service providers but rehabilitation providers, and do so over a longer period.

Offenders with drug addictions often lead very chaotic lives, and often relapse several times before they secure the help that will enable them to embark on the path towards a more normal lifestyle. They need a great deal of work over a long period, and they are often not directly ready even to start looking for a job. How will the Minister’s system of payment by results, and his efforts to get more offenders into work, take account of the work that will need to be done over, perhaps, a number of years?

As the hon. Lady says, this is a difficult and faltering path for many people with serious drug addiction problems. The system that we are designing, however, is based on the central tenet that people should do what works to reduce reoffending, and that those who do so will be rewarded for it. If someone has a major drug problem, it will be necessary for providers to address that in order to ensure that that person does not reoffend. I am confident that they will focus on those issues, and will do what is necessary to turn people’s lives around. If what is necessary in the case of a particular individual is getting him off drugs and keeping him off them, I am sure that that is what they will do, but we will need to bring in a number of agencies to work with them.

In Magilligan prison in my constituency there is a very good scheme preparing prisoners for the outside world and employment, and reducing reoffending rates. What measures can the Minister implement in conjunction with the devolved structures to ensure that such best practice is replicated across the entire United Kingdom?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will know that I do not have direct responsibility for the prisons in Northern Ireland, but he makes a good point. There will be examples of good practice across other Administrations from which we can learn, and we will certainly seek to do so.

Unfortunately, there is scant evidence of rehabilitation in the recent inspection report on Serco and HMP Thameside. Instead we hear of bad management, gang-related violence, and prisoners sleeping away the day spending up to 23 hours locked in their cells. We also now have irregularities in the tagging contracts and the sudden resignation of the G4S chief executive. Does the Minister not agree that this is more evidence of why we should be wary of rushing headlong into handing over our probation service to these same companies? A failure repeated outside the relative safety of prison walls would see dangerous offenders walking our streets completely unsupervised.

I think that what there is good evidence of is the need for reform. We need to make sure more work on rehabilitation is going on within prisons, as well as more work through the gate and out into the community. As the hon. Lady well knows, the truth is that there are good and bad reports on private prisons, just as there are good and bad reports on public prisons. We will want to make sure that we do everything we can to engage in rehabilitation while people are in prison. More work in prison will certainly help: 800,000 more hours were worked in prisons last year than the year before. Progress is being made, but there is certainly more to do, hence our reforms, which I hope the hon. Lady will support.

We are immensely grateful to the Minister. I feel sure that the Government could with great advantage schedule at some point a full day’s debate on the subject.