We want prisons to be places of rigorous education and high ambition. Dame Sally Coates’s review “Unlocking potential” was published last month, and we have accepted all its recommendations in principle. We will be giving control of education budgets to prison governors, so that they can choose their education providers and hold them to account for the service that they give.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want an unremitting emphasis on rehabilitation. Reoffending has been too high for too long. That is why we are investing £1.3 billion over the next five years to transform the prison estate and give prisoners the help they need to turn their lives around.
The Coates review that the Minister referred to says that the employment prospects for those on short-term sentences are three times worse for women than for men, with only one in 10 women finding a job on release. What plans does he have to improve the prospects of employment for women?
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically perceptive point, and I think a large part of the answer is to encourage more employers to follow the example of Max Spielmann and Greggs, who have set up academies at HMPs New Hall and Drake Hall. Those academies provide work in prison and ongoing support after release, and if more employers did that with women in mind we would have more success in this area.
Giving control of the education budget to the governors of HMP Garth and HMP Wymott and holding them to account for the outcomes, as well as the introduction of personal learning plans in a consistent digital format that follows the prisoner around the estate, will absolutely drive improvement.
Does the Minister accept that, although these plans are welcome, they will not work without the right number of prison officers to ensure that prisoners are out of their cells and have continuity of learning? Since there are now 7,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, how does he expect to implement these plans without more recruitment?
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the incredible work that our prison officers do day in, day out. I can tell her that since 1 January 2015 we have appointed 2,830 additional prison officers—a net increase of 530—and that the vacancy rate is now 2.5%, whereas at the start of last year it was 5.2%. We will carry on recruiting at this rate.
The Minister knows that we educate to rehabilitate and offer life-improving opportunities for those who find themselves in prison. The Minister is also seized of the information that we have shared previously about the impediment of the lack of provision of insurance for employers who want to offer opportunities when someone is released. Can the Minister update us on the progress he has made on removing that barrier to progress?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for continuing to raise this issue. A particularly shocking case was drawn to my attention the other day: the household insurance of a family had been raised by hundreds and hundreds of pounds because the father had gone to prison, which put huge pressure on the family’s budget. I continue to take up that issue and others with the Association of British Insurers.
The chief inspector’s report into HMP Wormwood Scrubs found that most prisoners had fewer than two hours a day out of their cells and were making very poor use of the educational facilities available. How far would the Minister say that is reflected across the prison estate?
We have fewer and fewer restricted regimes across the estate, but the whole thrust of what the Secretary of State and I are trying to do is increase the time out of cell and put education at the heart of the prison regime. I want prisoners to learn not only when they go to the education classrooms, but during their association periods and in their cells, so that we have a whole prison learning experience.
I praise and thank the Government for raising the profile of this issue. One thing that sometimes disrupts the education of prisoners is the loss of their records when they are transferred; that results in dislocation. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government propose to take to smooth the transition when a prisoner transfers, so that he or she can continue their education?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his characteristically gracious and thoughtful point. He might have heard me say a moment ago that we were bringing in a personal learning plan—the initials PLP will mean something to Labour Members. It will be introduced in a consistent digital format that will follow prisoners as they move around the prison estate.
Will the Minister tell me when he intends to meet the new Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland and when they will have an opportunity to discuss a range of issues including the Open University’s distance learning programme, which is an important rehabilitation and educational tool for prisoners and the wider society in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she takes an ongoing and serious interest in these issues. The Secretary of State tells me that he has already written to the new Northern Ireland Justice Minister and issued an invitation to her. We will learn from and co-operate as fully as possible with the prison service in Northern Ireland.