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Prisoners: Meaningful Work

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2016

2. What progress his Department has made on ensuring that offenders are engaged in meaningful work in prison. (904663)

6. What progress his Department has made on ensuring that offenders are engaged in meaningful work in prison. (904668)

We want prisons to be places of hard work and high ambition. That is why we will give governors more autonomy and hold them to account by publishing employment outcomes for prisoners so that we can compare results between prisons.

We know how beneficial employment is for the rehabilitation of young adult offenders, in particular. Will my hon. Friend advise the House on specific plans that he has to increase employment in this cohort?

I know how seriously my hon. Friend takes this issue, and she is right to do so. I point her, particularly for young offenders, to construction, where I think that there are huge opportunities. For example, the National Grid young offender scheme has a 10-year reoffending rate of less than 7%. I was with Balfour Beatty, which employs young ex-offenders, in a prison in North Yorkshire last Thursday. We now have two Land Securities construction academies, comprising dry lining, scaffolding and tunnelling. I am assured that the last two activities have been risk assessed. [Laughter.]

Is the Minister aware of an outstanding pathfinder project at North Wales Women’s Centre in Rhyl, in my constituency, which offers holistic support to women offenders in line with recommendations in the Corston report? Will he join me in urging the Government to pursue improved provision and rehabilitation for women offenders to help to avoid the cost and family disruption of incarceration for relatively minor offences?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to the good work of the North Wales Women’s Centre, and I commend it for what it does. The Government are committed to supporting vulnerable women to turn their lives around, and we plan to expand that important work.

May I remind the Minister and the recumbent Secretary of State that one of the real problems that we face—it is World Autism Week—is that when prisoners go into prison, they are not assessed properly for autism, literacy skills and many other things? Could we have a system in which autism is important? Many people who go into prison are on the autism scale.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, and I am extremely proud that the United Kingdom has the world’s first autism-accredited prison in Feltham, which I visited recently with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). I want more prisons to go down that route, and he is absolutely right to raise the issue.

The Minister has two laudable objectives: work in prison and reducing reoffending by getting prisoners employment outside prison. How does he intend to achieve those objectives when staffing is under such severe pressure because of the reduction in the number of officers, and when does he intend to produce the guidance to governors on reoffending in their prisons?

We continue to recruit prison officers at full throttle. Last year, we recruited 2,250. I am optimistic about the employment agenda as more and more employers realise that our prisons can be part of the answer to the nation’s skills shortage. We will provide governors with all the guidance that they need as we roll out the reform prison agenda.

23. Will the Minister support employers coming into prisons to offer training, so that offenders can be better placed to find a job when they leave prison and are more likely to stay out of prison? (904685)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and more and more employers are coming to do exactly that. I have been to several employment roadshows around the country. I have mentioned Balfour Beatty, and last Thursday the Mitie Foundation was in Durham prison, where six prisoners were offered jobs during the day.

I recently met Shona, a Glasgow lady who started up her own enterprise producing reusable sandwich wrappers. The manufacturing is predominantly done by inmates at Kilmarnock prison, who learn a skill that, we hope, helps their rehabilitation and future job prospects. What measures is the Secretary of State taking to encourage similar local schemes in England and Wales?

I am really pleased that the hon. Lady has mentioned that, because just as employment is important, so are self-employment and enterprise. We have schemes to encourage them, and various Government loans can be drawn down. The Mitie Foundation business challenge day in Durham was also about encouraging business to go down the self-employment route.

I do hope that the Minister can assure the House that the prisoners he mentioned a few moments ago were given their tunnelling skills after they left prison, not as a means of departure. Has he looked at some form of apprenticeship programme within prisons to give vocational skills to those who need them?

I am very keen to develop the avenue down which my hon. Friend is taking me. We could certainly look at a traineeship, which is often the first step towards an apprenticeship, within prisons. I will shortly meet the apprenticeships Minister—the Minister for Skills—to try to take forward this matter.

Will the Minister hold discussions with Justice Ministers in the devolved legislatures so that best practice—particularly as practised in the prison in my constituency, where prisoners near the end of their sentence are relocated outside prison for work—is followed and prisoners can do the productive work that leads to lower reoffending rates?

I will certainly seek to learn from that best practice. If the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to write to me with details of the good work going on in the prison in his constituency, I will certainly look at that.

Another day and another critical report is published by the chief inspector of prisons. This time, it is about Lewes prison. The Minister’s words about meaningful work in prison ring very hollow when inspectors found prisoners at Lewes routinely kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. This follows their report on Wormwood Scrubs, which is described as continuing

“to fall short of expected standards”.

At the time of their inspection, there was “little cause for optimism.” Suicides, self-harm, violence, psychoactive substances and alcohol finds in prisons, and reoffending rates are at an all-time high. The Justice Secretary has been in his job for a year now, and we have had a lot of talk about reform. Is it not time for him to stop talking and to start doing something?

The Government recognise that we have a long way to go to improve our prisons, which is why the Secretary of State has laid out a full reform programme. I went to Wormwood Scrubs last week, and I can tell the hon. Lady that there were a number of jobs fairs in the prison that have led to jobs. We have a good new governor there, and I am hopeful that we will see improvements. I have looked at the Lewes report. There are of course things that we will take further, but there are also some positives, not least the very good relationship in Lewes between the prison and the community rehabilitation company.