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Offenders: Access to Education and Employment

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

8. What steps the Government are taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. (908252)

In May, we published the education and employment strategy to create a system where each prisoner is set on a path to employment, with prison education work geared from the outset towards employment on release. We have launched the New Futures Network and appointed a CEO to drive its roll-out. The NFN identifies where skill gaps exist and works with employers to fill them. We are also empowering governors to commission education provision that leads to work. Activity to appoint the new education suppliers who will deliver the curricula that governors have designed is almost complete.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the New Futures Network. Will he expand a bit more on how that is achieving employment for offenders upon release?

The New Futures Network brokers partnerships between prisons and employers in England and Wales, which help businesses to fill skills gaps and prisoners to find employment on release. The NFN has a central team based in London that works with large national employers. We are also placing employment brokers across England and Wales to work with small and medium-sized enterprises and regional businesses. I am pleased to say that since the publication of the strategy in May, more than 100 new organisations have registered an interest in working with offenders.

I have been working with a constituent who has recently completed a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence. He has reminded me that in that time, a great deal has moved online—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), referred to initiating legal proceedings online. My constituent says that that places him at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing services and applying for jobs, so what steps are the Department taking to ensure that offenders gain digital skills and retain them?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Digital skills are already taught in many prisons. We are empowering governors to have more control over the curriculum, but we are also determined to ensure that there is some consistency, so from next April our core common curriculum will include ICT, which must be taught in every prison.

It is a good idea to empower governors to make the right choices for their establishments, either as individuals or in clusters, but does the Department intend to give them a sufficient budget to enable them to do that in a way that will actually make a difference?

We want to ensure that the path to employment is set out for every prisoner, that all prisoners have that opportunity to receive the education that they need, and that there is a focus on work. That is a priority for our Department, and I am confident that we can deliver on it.

Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, but in Magilligan prison in my constituency, prisoners reaching the end of their sentence are allowed out under close supervision to work in the community. Does the Secretary of State agree that such action leads to a reduction in reoffending and should be replicated throughout the United Kingdom?

That is an excellent point. Workplace release on temporary licence has a key role to play in giving prisoners employment opportunities and easing the transition from prison life to post-prison existence. I am keen to ensure that we do what we can with workplace ROTL, and I should like it to be used more.

What further action can be taken to encourage more employers to offer such opportunities during the final period of a sentence? That is being done very effectively at Thorn Cross prison in Appleton Thorn, near Warrington.

Encouraging employers is very much what the New Futures Network is about. I sense a change of attitude among employers: more and more of them want to do this, because they recognise that there are benefits for them as well as for society as a whole. As I have said, more than 100 employers have signed up to the network, and I encourage those who are following our proceedings closely to do as much as possible on this front.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the disproportionate levels of often undiagnosed special educational needs and disability—especially difficulties with speech and language, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—in the prison population. What measures has he introduced to ensure that all those prisoners are assessed and then appropriately supported in their education?

We are keen to develop specialist education plans when people come into prisons, because that is when we need to identify issues such as those that the hon. Lady has mentioned. However, the really important point that she has raised is the need for us to work across Government. It is not just about what happens in the Prison Service or the Ministry of Justice; we need to co-ordinate with, for instance, the national health service, the Department for Work and Pensions and local authorities. If we are to turn people’s lives around, we need a cross-Government approach. I am pleased that the Reducing Reoffending Board has been established, and that there is a real willingness across Government to make progress.