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Prisons: Work

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

We want prisons to be places of industry and purposeful activity by replicating as far as possible a normal working week, and by teaching skills that lead to employment on release and reduced reoffending. From 2010-11 to 2013-14, the number of hours worked in prisons increased by a third from 10.6 million to 14.2 million in public sector prisons.

The Minister will be aware that a number of my constituents in North Sea Camp open prison are already undertaking a great deal of paid work. What work is the Department doing to ensure that people are moved to open prisons at the right time, rather than before time?

Only prisoners assessed as at low risk of absconding and low risk of harm to the public, and who are within two years of release, may be allocated to an open prison. An open prison provides resettlement opportunities, including paid work that can support successful reintegration into the community and help to reduce the risk of reoffending. We want all prisoners to take advantage of these opportunities. We will continue to encourage all prisoners to do so.

The prison service is housing an increasing number of older prisoners. What steps are being taken to rehabilitate prisoners who are too old or too ill to work?

We cannot require older prisoners to work, but I would certainly want those opportunities to be available to older prisoners, just as they are to many older people in society who want to carry on working. All our educational opportunities are, of course, open to older prisoners. We recognise the challenge, which the hon. Lady rightly raises, of an increasingly elderly prison population.

Between 2005 and 2009, I visited about 65 prisons in England and Wales, and it was my universal experience that the work done by prisoners was more or less useless to the outside world. In one prison, I saw people making hairnets. No doubt there is a market for hairnets—

None of the prisoners in that prison—it was not too far from Lichfield!—was ever going to leave prison to work in a hairnet factory. Will my hon. Friend please ensure that proper wages are paid for the work we tell prisoners to do, so that they can support their families, rather than the welfare state, and can leave prison and get a job that they want to do?

I think the hairnet has been replaced, to judge by the length of the question, but we greatly enjoyed the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question.

I have great respect for my right hon. and learned Friend and for his seminal work, “Prisons with a Purpose”. Of course we want high-quality work. I could show him what is happening in Halfords academy at Olney prison, where prisoners are trained to be bicycle mechanics so that they can get a job on release; or I could tell him about the new work we are doing with the Ministry of Defence, which has been much appreciated by that Department.

The Minister will be well aware that one of the biggest safeguards against reoffending is getting people into a job. In a number of prisons, including HMP Risley in my constituency, however, prisoners are often denied access to work experience because the prison wings are locked owing to a shortage of staff. What is the hon. Gentleman doing to tackle this problem?

We are doing a great deal about it. The first and most important thing is that we were successful in recruiting more than 1,700 extra prison officers in the year to March, and we are going to carry on recruiting the same number of prison officers. That will lead to more staff on the wings, allowing more access to work activities to achieve exactly what the hon. Lady wants.