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Prisoner Rehabilitation and Education

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 9 June 2020

What steps he is taking to ensure that rehabilitation and education programmes for prisoners continue during the covid-19 outbreak. (902953)

In prison, as in the community, there have been restrictions, which have been designed to keep prisoners and staff safe from covid-19. We have taken unprecedented action and we have saved lives. As in the community, it has required the temporary suspension of classroom education. Education providers are working with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to deliver in-cell packs to support learning. We published our national framework for recovery last week and hope to bring back youth education in the next phase, with the adult estate following in this phase after that.

Education is key if we are to curb reoffending. The Government have talked about schools restarting, some last week and some on Monday. It is vital that we have education in prisons, so when will the Minister ensure that that happens? In addition, when will the Minister ensure that testing is available in prisons?

Those are two important points. On education, I completely agree with the hon. Lady that education is important to the reduction of reoffending. As I mentioned, we have set out in our national framework what provision we can bring back safely, and in the first phase we will bring back education in the youth estate. On testing, we already have some testing of prisoners in prisons, and testing is available to our staff. We will roll out increased testing in prisons as matters progress.

In Kent, Surrey and Sussex, the rehabilitation and education of offenders continues once they are released from prison, thanks to our excellent community rehabilitation company, which has also altered its practices to ensure that it can maintain some level of contact throughout the covid pandemic. In May, the CRC contacted the Ministry of Justice contract managers to ask whether a temporary change to unpaid work rules could be implemented in order to deploy people sentenced to community payback with small farmers and help with the Pick for Britain initiative. Such a change could provide an estimated 190,000 hours of work. Has the Minister had the opportunity to talk to colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that suggestion, which would not only help offenders to complete their rehabilitation but benefit our farmers, who are desperate for workers?

My hon. Friend and other Members who represent Kent, Surrey and Sussex work closely with their CRC. We are looking carefully at how we can support the farming industry and other key sectors at this time. In particular, we want to encourage ex-offenders into permanent agricultural employment. The Secretary of State and I have had discussions on the issue with our counterparts at the Department for Work and Pensions. The New Futures Network, which organises links between prisoners, prisons and employers, is in active discussions with the National Farmers Union.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for all the work you have done to ensure that I once again have the opportunity to represent my constituents virtually? Thank you.

Worryingly, prisoners are getting less than 30 minutes out of their cells each day during the current covid-19 crisis. What is the Minister doing to ensure that all prisoners have access to specialist mental health support and can continue to learn vital skills for future employment, thus helping to break the cycle of reoffending?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. It is right to point out that, when the crisis first hit, we did significantly reduce our regimes in prisons, but prisoners should have access to the basic needs and should continue to do so, including in relation to food, showers and exercise. They will have access to healthcare in a number of ways. We have introduced in-cell telephony, which helps support the healthcare they get and to support their mental health through the Samaritans helpline and the Listener scheme that we operate in prisons. We are also able to continue some of our offender management programmes on a one-to-one basis. We set out our national framework for recovery last week, and we are very much looking forward to reintroducing those aspects that are most vital to prisoners to help them get on with their lives.

There are some great examples of rehabilitation programmes. One is at HMP Onley, where the charity Futures Unlocked and Rugby rotary club are collecting unwanted bicycles left at Rugby railway station, which are taken to the prison for refurbishment to provide purposeful work. Unfortunately, that project is temporarily suspended, as there has been the challenge of being able to collect the bicycles under the current measures. Will the Minister join me in hoping that steps can be taken to get that project up and running again at the earliest opportunity?

I am aware of the scheme, which is a great example of joint working between HMP Onley, Virgin Trains and Halfords. HMPPS has partnerships with over 300 such organisations, which provide daily work in prisons in normal times, and we value these partnerships enormously. Workshops have been closed in response to the pandemic, but last week, as I have mentioned, we published a national framework setting out how we will ease the restrictions, which we will do as soon as it is safe to do so.