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Released Offenders: Employment

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2016

We know that getting prisoners into employment is key to reducing reoffending. While there are some excellent initiatives in the Prison Service, there is still no coherent system that links work inside with education and training, and employment opportunities on the outside. That is why I will be bringing forward a plan, early in the new year, to boost offender employment.

Despite undergoing training in prison, some offenders are still struggling to secure employment on their release, as highlighted recently by one of my constituents. What more is being done, and can be done, to ensure that the qualifications undertaken by inmates while in prison are both relevant and acceptable to potential employers?

My hon. Friend describes a situation that is all too familiar in our Prison Service where prisoners undertake courses in prison that bear no relation to the outside world or the ability to get a job. In our White Paper, which will be published shortly, we will be saying how we can improve that education system—we have already accepted the reforms announced by Dame Sally Coates in her review—and how we can help governors work with prisoners in the local labour market to boost employment for inmates.

There is a well-established link between unemployment and reoffending, and we are now five years on from the Government’s rehabilitation revolution. Will the Minister let us know whether the latest reoffending statistics show an increase or a decrease in reoffending rates?

It is still the case, as it has been for decades in the UK, that roughly a third of people who leave our prison system reoffend. The hon. Lady mentions the Government’s record. I do not recollect the last Labour Government ever talking about rehabilitation and reform in our prisons. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will introduce plans that will give governors real power on the frontline, so that they can act as the ringmasters working locally to deliver real reform.

Will the Minister agree to visit Jobs, Friends & Houses, which not only gets ex-offenders into construction jobs, but helps to find them somewhere to live, gets them off drugs and provides them with a supportive group of friends. That is such a good project; I am hoping to set it up in Bedfordshire as well.

My hon. Friend the former Minister mentions an excellent scheme that I definitely support, along with a number of other schemes that are going on in the Prison Service and with some great employers such as Timpson’s, Greggs and Halfords. In our employment strategy, we will make sure that that works throughout the system, rather than having a few bright spots here and there.

An important follow-on to that is the impediment that insurance premiums caused for employers who wished to engage somebody who had left prison. The former Minister, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), was seized of the issue and pursuing good work in that regard. Will the Minister give an update on the progress with insurers and continue the hon. Gentleman’s good work?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are a number of barriers for employers in taking ex-offenders—some around trust, some around stigma—and some real hard issues such as insurance. We will be looking at all those issues and reducing those barriers, so that employers are incentivised to take on ex-offenders. Interestingly, those who do so, such as Timpson’s, say that some of their most loyal employees are those who have come out of the prison system. We want that to continue.

19. Some 15% of young people in custody are autistic. With yesterday’s publication of the Government’s excellent Green Paper on halving the disability employment gap and the recognition that autistic people need specific personal help, what contribution will the Department make to ensuring that autistic offenders find employment on release? (906957)

The issue is not just autistic offenders. We know that many people in the youth justice system, as well as in the prison population as a whole, have special educational needs and low levels of literacy. A key step that the Government have taken is moving the relevant education budgets from the Department for Education to the Ministry of Justice. We will be delegating those budgets to prison governors, so that they can spend appropriately on the needs of each prisoner to help them to get the right education so they can get employment.