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Prisons’ Engagement with Employers

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

7. What steps his Department is taking to improve prisons’ engagement with employers; and if he will make a statement. (902599)

12. What steps his Department is taking to improve prisons’ engagement with employers; and if he will make a statement. (902604)

The investment in prison reform announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the spending review is designed to make it easier to get prisoners learning and working. As a result, I recently met the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending to discuss how we can improve employment opportunities for ex-offenders.

New Call Telecom in Pendle is working with Spacious Place, a social enterprise, to help young offenders at Forest Bank prison with training and employment opportunities. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming New Call Telecom’s work to improve rehabilitation and get young offenders back into society and into employment?

I wholeheartedly welcome its work, and I commend its efforts to other companies. About 20% of companies employ ex-offenders, but as many as 90% of companies have expressed an interest in doing so. I suspect that the example set by the employer in my hon. Friend’s constituency will inspire more companies to support ex-offenders into work.

Given that prison is an expensive option, does my right hon. Friend agree that it makes moral sense to give people who wish to turn their lives around the opportunity to work? Does he also agree that that makes sound business sense, because those people are often hard-working and very loyal employees?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is economically sensible to ensure that ex-offenders are in work—about 22% of those in receipt of out-of-work benefits are ex-offenders—and it makes moral sense to give people dignity and a chance to redeem themselves by contributing economically to society.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of my interest in the work of the Cascade Foundation, which was founded by my constituent Jackie Hewitt-Main, and does amazing work in educating and rehabilitating offenders with learning needs. Will he meet me and the Cascade Foundation so that it can share some of its observations about ways we could further improve and streamline rehabilitation through education in prison and on release?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and her constituent. Many outstanding firms, from Cisco Systems to Greggs the bakers, Halfords and DHL, are doing more and more to employ offenders, and we must reduce the bureaucratic burdens standing in their way.

When I sat on the Justice Committee earlier this summer, I visited Holloway prison and saw how release on temporary licence allowed women to carry out jobs that led to employment on the outside, and to stability. That worked extremely well in Holloway because the transport links are so good, but how can the Secretary of State ensure that such facilities are consistently good across all women’s prisons in the UK?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point. I would like to see an expansion of release on temporary licence across the prison estate, not just in women’s prisons. We must ensure an appropriate assessment of the risk posed by releasing offenders in such a way, but we must also reinforce the initiative of prison governors who want people out there working and accustoming themselves to life on the outside.

May I beg the Secretary of State not to forget what has worked in the past? Will he look at the experience of British Gas, Ford and a cluster of companies in the very famous Reading prison, which I believe is due for closure, working with young offenders? The employment rate was amazingly successful. Let us make sure that that model is not forgotten.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. In my constituency, HMP Coldingley works with a group of disparate employers to provide offenders with the chance to contribute again. He makes a very important point.

What specific measures are being put in place to reduce the bureaucracy that companies have to overcome to employ offenders?

The first thing we need to do is give governors a greater sense of freedom so that they are able to invite employers in, ensure they can make use of prisoners while they are still on the prison estate and employ them through the gate. Specific reforms we hope to bring forward in the new year will give more governors precisely that freedom and flexibility.

21. Does the Secretary of State agree that the key to improving employment in prisons is giving more power and control to governors over what goes on in their prisons, including the accountability and control to ensure that the quality is appropriate? (902615)

I absolutely agree. I think many Members will be aware of the Clink Restaurant social enterprise. A visionary prison governor at High Down in Surrey and a succession of great governors at HMP Brixton have helped it to expand. One of the most impressive prisons I have visited, HMP Parc in Bridgend, is also part of this initiative—all because of great governors leading institutions that we can learn from.