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Former Offenders: Employment Support

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

We will invest £200 million a year by 2024-25 in initiatives to reduce reoffending, including supporting prison leavers into employment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that prisoners and ex-offenders out on licence should help fill the labour shortage, that on release all prisoners, including some ex-Labour MPs, should be ready for work and that starting work should be a condition of their licence?

One of the first things I did as Secretary of State was host an employers’ summit attended by 600 organisations last month, where we committed to working together to improve employment rates for prison leavers. I have seen how that works at Ford prison and at HMP High Down, whether we are talking about HGV training or call centres. We know that if we give offenders the skills, and if they have the attitude to take a second chance, getting into work significantly reduces the risk of reoffending and that protects the public.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that giving offenders the chance of employment is key in driving down reoffending rates? What additional support is his Department providing to prisons to ensure that offenders are seizing the employment opportunities available to them?

In addition to the spending review settlement and the employers’ summit, we are making sure that we design prisons the right way. I visited Glen Parva, one of the new state-of-the-art prisons that we are building with our £4 billion investment programme. It had in-cell technology to ensure that inmates can learn skills, particularly numeracy and literacy, and state-of-the-art workshops, so that not only can they get skills, but we can get employers in to get inmates into meaningful, purposeful work.

I absolutely welcome the recognition that employment is pivotal to rehabilitation, but why then the obsession with short prison sentences? What is the point of locking somebody up for one or two months, which achieves absolutely nothing but will often cost somebody a job and a chance of rehabilitation?

We think that justice must be served; punishment is important. The short sentences are often for those who have systematically flouted and breached community sentences. To cut crime, the answer is to make sure justice is served. As well as incarceration where that is required for the purposes of punishment, we work on drug rehabilitation, skills and employment so that those offenders who want to take a second chance to turn themselves around—not all of them will—have the opportunity to grasp it.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on helping offenders into employment. Given estimates that more than half of offenders may be dyslexic and given the impact of dyslexia and illiteracy on the ability to work after a sentence, what is he doing to make sure that screening is available to ensure that prisoners can get the right training, especially on literacy if they are dyslexic, to help them into more successful work afterwards?

One issue we have discussed—I will be hosting prison governors at a roundtable shortly—is making sure that there is an immediate diagnosis within days of an offender getting into prison, so that we know two things: their numeracy and literacy levels, which will of course bring in other special educational needs, to which my right hon. Friend rightly refers; and what the next qualification is that they may—or may not—be able to achieve, so that we have a decent plan that gives them the chance to improve their skills, get into work and avoid a life of crime.