Skip to main content

Offenders: Education and Employment

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017

5. What steps the Government are taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (900668)

Education and employment opportunities are crucial to help offenders to turn around their lives. In line with our reforms, every prisoner will have a personal learning plan linked to their sentence plan. To make this reform effective, we are giving governors control over their education budgets to organise courses that fit prisoners’ needs.

Gardening and horticultural schemes for growing edible crops are increasingly being incorporated into prison programmes and programmes for those on remand up and down the country, giving offenders transferrable skills and offering them future employment opportunities, as well as encouraging self-confidence and, quite often, transforming unattractive concrete yards into much more pleasant green spaces. Has a formal assessment been made of some of those programmes, with a view to rolling out the best of the models even more widely?

My hon. Friend is right. I remember visiting Rye Hill prison near Daventry and seeing the pride with which prisoners tended their gardens; they spent hours doing so. She may be aware of the Royal Horticultural Society Windlesham trophy award, which is judged by an independent panel that looks at the best gardening schemes across the prison estate. If she does not mind, I should be delighted to put her name forward to be a judge.

Category D prisons often have the very best examples of rehabilitation as they prepare to let their prisoners back into the community. North Sea Camp in my constituency has worked with the council not only on that rehabilitative work to prepare prisoners for work but, for example, on fly-tipping, saving the taxpayer £300,000. Does the Minister agree that the other prisons in the sector can learn from category D’s rehabilitative practices, and will he come to North Sea Camp and have a look at how well they can work?

My hon. Friend has lighted on an important principle. Work in prison is vital to preparing prisoners for life after release—North Sea Camp has an excellent example—which is why I am supporting the New Futures Network to develop relationships between employers, governors and the world of work. I would be delighted to visit North Sea Camp in due course.

I have never heard such complacency from the Government. The Prison Service is a shambles, and at the heart of that shambles is the lack of education, the lack of literacy, the lack of numeracy and the lack of apprenticeships—services that, as they are for our Scandinavian brethren, should be in every prison. When is the Minister going to wake up?

The hon. Gentleman has come back from his summer holiday with his customary passion. I agree that if prisons are to work properly we need to give people the opportunity to turn their lives around. Prison reform is important to this Government. That is why we are giving governors more control of their budgets and more freedom to implement the plans that are necessary for offenders to turn their lives around. I share his concern and his passion, and such work is a priority for this Government.

How will the personal learning plans of which the Minister has just spoken operate when a prisoner is transferred from one prison to another? What guarantees can he give that the education path on which that prisoner has commenced can be continued in his or her new setting, and that there will be consistency of offer right across the prison estate?

The hon. Lady points out a very serious problem that currently exists on the estate. Prisoners are transferred and cannot continue courses that they have started—for example, some were on GCSE programmes and cannot finish them. We are looking at courses and technology systems that allow them to carry on what they have been doing when they are transferred from one prison to another, so that there is progression on all the courses. I completely agree with her, but we are looking at it.

21. If prison is to achieve anything, it must change lives. It has the best chance of doing that if we offer people both education and assisted places in work on release. Given that three fifths of offenders still leave prison without identified education or any employment opportunities, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend assure us that these programmes will be at the centre of the prison system and describe how these policies are being adjusted for greater success? (900685)

My hon. Friend is right. About 50% of prisoners have the reading age and numeracy skills of an 11-year-old. If we are to give them a chance in life, we need to sort out education, but we also need to give them employment skills that are valued in the workplace. That is why prison reform, which is at the heart of the White Paper that the Government published last November, is carrying on at pace.

The chief inspectors of prisons and of probation recently issued a devastating report on the Government’s flagship community rehabilitation companies, which stated:

“None of the prisoners had been helped into employment by through-the-gate services”.

Will the Minister commit to an urgent review of the role of CRCs, including their delivery of education and employment services, and will he guarantee that no extra money will be passed on to those private companies until they can be proven to be fit for purpose?

The probation reforms that the previous Conservative Government rolled out mean that 45,000 offenders who previously would not have been supervised, because they had been in prison for less than 12 months, are now being supervised. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are challenges with what is a first-generation outsourcing programme. We have an ongoing probation review and extra funds have been invested in the CRCs, but we are still within the funding envelope that was decided at the start of the programme. We are carrying out the review to make sure that through-the-gate and other services operate as was envisaged in the original vision.