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Prisons: Careers Guidance

Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they have cancelled the contract of the National Careers Service to provide careers guidance in prisons.

My Lords, the custodial element of the National Careers Service contract has not been cancelled; it will reach its expiry date on 31 March 2018. We are reviewing options for alternative provision as part of wider employment services. We are committed to providing training and advice to deliver effective rehabilitation for the needs of offenders.

My Lords, job coaches, who are likely to replace the present people who deal with prisoners, are not people who visit just before release. Others coming into this position will not provide as good a service as the career advisers, who work with prisoners over a considerable time. Can the Minister say what consultations have taken place on this decision and whether the results will be published in due course? Why have the Government refused to provide information as to the likely number of advisers who will no longer be employed?

My Lords, the contract for the in-custody National Careers Service element could have been extended by a further period of six months maximum from 31 March 2018. A decision was made not to extend it because an internal review of the service being provided indicated that custody contract performance showed significant inconsistencies of service between institutions. As regards its replacement going forward, I note, for example, that community rehabilitation companies already work with every prisoner 12 weeks prior to release to ensure a personalised plan with respect to employment, and Department for Work and Pensions prison work coaches also work in this field. Indeed, it has been noted, particularly in 2016 by Dame Sally Coates in her review of prison education, that there is overlap and duplication within the current arrangements for supporting prisoners.

My Lords, I declare an interest as in the register. A number of organisations provide services which assist in the rehabilitation of offenders. Does the Minister agree that to remove the National Careers Service will add to the overcrowding problem, thus increasing reoffending rates, which are now at as much as 70% in young offender institutions?

My Lords, we do not consider that this will contribute to reoffending rates. One of the issues we wish to address with regard to future education contracts is the development of greater autonomy and governor empowerment, which will lead to local commissioning of these services and which we believe will lead to an improvement in them.

My Lords, will the internal review that the Minister has just mentioned include looking at organisations which offer the ability to search for jobs online? There is an organisation called Prosper 4, which at the moment has 3,000 jobs on offer to ex-prisoners but only 200 prisoner takers, because the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS seem to refuse to use online job-seeking.

My Lords, perhaps I should clarify. I referred to an internal review that had been carried out to determine the standard of service being provided under the National Careers Service in-custody contract, and it was that which led to the decision to let the contract terminate at its natural point in March 2018. On the provision of alternative services, and indeed online services, we are of course open to submissions about such a matter, and it will be an aspect of the governor empowerment proposals that we are taking forward.

My Lords, can the Government indicate how many people they believe who were released from prison will be in full-time employment 12 months after release?

I do not have those figures immediately to hand, but I am content to write to the noble Lord, outlining such figures as we have in that regard, and I will place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Would the Minister agree with me that one of the encouraging features about jobs and careers for prisoners is the number of times employers from the private sector engage prisoners, while they are still in prison, who turn out to be satisfactory employees who then continue that employment when they leave?

My Lords, in response to the question from my noble friend, I agree that there have been notable successes in this area, and we should appreciate the work done by some particular employers in this regard. There is one in particular where present indications are that something like 10% of their workforce are former inmates. If we can encourage other employers to take this step forward, we can help to reduce recidivism in the prison population.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest barriers to employment is poor literacy skills? Can he say how many people going into prison are functionally illiterate, and how many fewer are not when they come out?

My Lords, it is unfortunate but true that a very large proportion of those going into prison suffer mental health problems or literacy issues. We attempt to address those during their period in prison. Some improvement is achieved; it is not as great, perhaps, as we would hope, but within our prisons there is a difficult cohort as far as education and literacy are concerned.