My Lords, our Education and Employment Strategy was published in May this year. Governors are being empowered to commission education provision that leads to work, and we are building better links between prisons and businesses to ensure that those who leave prison are ready for work. We have launched the New Futures Network to engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners.
My Lords, I welcome these initiatives and acknowledge freely that David Gauke and Rory Stewart are much more enlightened and progressive than some of their predecessors. However, it is very depressing that, in a recent survey, only half of employers said that they would consider employing ex-offenders. I suggest that a senior and respected figure from the private sector—perhaps someone who has just retired—could be appointed to encourage more employers to take on ex-offenders, to work with them and chivvy them along. Surely this would make sense. Given that ex-offenders cost the country about £15 billion a year, would it not make sense to consider some kind of financial inducement to encourage employers?
My Lords, the good news is that half of employers might be interested in employing ex-offenders. Certainly, the noble Lord is completely right: we need to encourage people from the wider business community to encourage their colleagues to look to ex-offenders as potential employees. That is why the New Futures Network is appointing business ambassadors, who will do that for key sectors. For example, we have Timpson Group covering the retail sector—10% of Timpson’s employees are ex-offenders—and we have Landsec doing the same for construction and Mitie for agriculture and horticulture.
The noble Baroness is completely right. Of course, that is one of the challenges that we face in our prison communities. We know that one-third of prisoners have learning difficulties or a disability. That is why it all comes back to education: we need to make sure that the education provision is right for all ex-offenders, whether they have learning difficulties or a disability. We do this by empowering our governors to commission the services that work for their prison community.
My Lords, will the Minister join with me in congratulating Arsenal Football Club and its players on the work that they have committed themselves to doing, which involves going into prisons and helping current offenders to become motivated and receive training that will equip them better for when they leave prison?
My noble friend makes a very good point. If we can get prisoners out of prison and into the community to undertake some work experience, that will be hugely beneficial. At the moment, 7,500 prisoners have had at least one release—an increase of 7%—and we are looking at more ways to improve this. We have allowed governors to tailor their ROTL regime by prisoner, and we are developing a new framework for ROTL to ensure that more of the more appropriate prisoners can get out to get the valuable work experience that they need.
My Lords, given that the lack of joined-up local partnership was a central criticism made by Dame Glenys Stacey’s annual report on probation for last year, what are the Government doing to build into their new contracts with the community rehabilitation companies firm obligations to work with the voluntary sector and local private businesses to provide training and employment for offenders, both those serving community sentences and offenders on their release from custody?
My Lords, the community rehabilitation companies are an important part of our probation service. Noble Lords will know that we are ending the current CRC contracts early; some things have worked well, and some things, frankly, have not. We have sought feedback from a number of proposals to improve the structure and content, and we are talking to third sector organisations. The public consultation ended on 21 September. I also acknowledge the recommendations which were brought forward in the Justice Select Committee’s report. The Government will look at all these items—of course, any contributions from the noble Lord will be very welcome—and we will respond early next year.
My Lords, mental health issues are finally being acknowledged as a matter of national concern. What are the Government doing to ensure that the mental health and well-being of women in prisons is being supported, as well as the need for training and skills?
The noble Baroness is quite right and, indeed, we have covered this at Questions and in debates recently. The needs of women in prisons are slightly different from the needs of men; mental health is an important part of that, and we know that self-harming rates are higher among women than they are among men. We recognise all these things, which is why our Female Offender Strategy, which was announced earlier this year, focuses particularly on mental health, to make sure that the environment in which female offenders are kept is appropriate for them and that they have the support that they need.
My Lords, the Minister has no doubt heard of the organisation Prosper, which was founded by an ex-offender. It has currently 3,000 jobs on offer to ex-prisoners online, but the Prison Service can produce only 200 names to fill those places. Can the Minister please assure the House that there is co-ordination between all organisations offering jobs to ex-offenders?
I certainly commend the work of Prosper, and I am surprised to hear the figures that the noble Lord mentioned. I will do some more digging in this area to find out why this disparity exists, and will then write to the noble Lord and put a copy in the Library.