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Prisoner Work Experience

Volume 637: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018

In 2016-17, offenders completed 16 million hours of work and there were, on average, 11,200 offenders working in prison workshops. In the same period, 2,048 individuals were released on temporary licence for work-related purposes. The New Futures Network will aim to get even more prisoners working during their sentence and to see that that work leads to employment on release.

I know that the Secretary of State is new in office, but people at Ranby Prison have been waiting for two years now to be able to get on with creating the sports facilities that they are capable of building inside— the seating, the dugouts for community sports, and even the changing rooms—but the one thing they have not been given is the Secretary of State’s permission to proceed with doing this commercial work. Could I incentivise him with perhaps a cup of tea afterwards, to concentrate his mind on why he needs to make this decision urgently?

Certainly, the prospect of a cup of tea with the hon. Gentleman does concentrate the mind, and I would be delighted to accept his invitation. We are trying to ensure that we have a prison system that encourages people to progress by having opportunities to gain experience of work, and I am keen to do that in this post.

The hon. Gentleman’s offer is an interesting one. It might also be thought by some to be a divisible proposition.

The Secretary of State’s speech this morning and his emphasis on more use of release on temporary licence is extremely welcome and constructive. Will he bear in mind, though, that the Through the Gate programme currently involves careers and employment advice being given only towards the very end of a prisoner’s sentence, whereas all the evidence suggests that that should happen much earlier?

I thank the Chair of the Justice Committee for his comments. I do want to look at whether we can expand release on temporary licence and provide these opportunities more widely. On his second point, I am keen to ensure that we provide as much support as possible and make it clear that there is a second chance for people who have gone to prison. If they abide by the rules and comply with the system, we want to give them the support to turn their lives around.

Will the Secretary of State consider what can be done to facilitate prisoners in applying for universal credit before they are released, so that they can receive the support of jobcentre and other staff immediately on release to move into paid work as quickly as possible?

The hon. Lady raises a good point, and rightly so. I am keen to do precisely as she suggests. A lot of work already goes on in prisons with, for example, work coaches providing this support. Part of the challenge is about access to emails. We need to look very carefully at that because it raises a large number of questions.

Work experience in prison that leads to work on release is proven to reduce reoffending. Does the Secretary of State therefore believe that, while we rightly praise employers who offer ex-offenders work experience, we need to call out those employers who have a blanket ban on employing ex-offenders unrelated to any reasonable or fair risk assessment of doing so?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have seen surveys suggesting that some 50% of employers simply will not engage. It is frustrating that when one speaks to employers who do take on ex-offenders, their experience is frequently very positive indeed. If we can increasingly build a culture whereby these offenders are given that opportunity, that is good for the offenders and good for society, as it will reduce reoffending.