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Offenders: Employment after Release from Prison

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022

3. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders find employment following their release from prison. (901681)

23. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders find employment following their release from prison. (901703)

Getting prisoners into employment helps not only to fill the 1.25 million vacancies that businesses have right now, but to drive down reoffending. To achieve that, we are building stronger links with employers and suppliers and are offering more offenders the chance to work in prison, on release on temporary licence, and on release from prison.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that through the apprenticeships programme that his Department is running, prison leavers will be given the opportunity to achieve qualifications that will help them into new jobs and careers and help them to turn their back on crime?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to get more prisoners the skills and qualifications that they need to get into employment and have the chance to contribute to society, which cuts crime and grows the economy. I am delighted that the first apprentices have now started work. We are planning a roundtable to encourage a wide range of employers, particularly in the UK hospitality and construction industries, where there is a lot more that we can do.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to building links with employers to ensure that prison leavers go into sustainable employment. Will he assure me and the House that his Department will support that ambition with appropriate funding?

Yes. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are investing in new roles, such as prison employment leads and a head of education, skills and work, to give our prisoners the support that they need to get into jobs. We are also funding new infrastructure such as employment hubs. This investment will cut crime and help prisoners to get work-ready, which will mean a better, safer society and a healthier community.

Having visited HMP Thorn Cross recently while I was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, I have seen the great work that Timpson and TalkTalk, among others, are doing to prepare offenders for the world of work. At a meeting in Macclesfield on Friday, Sodexo also demonstrated its clear commitment to the task. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need more such partnerships, as well as clear pathways of support on leaving prison, including access to relevant benefits, to ensure that more prison leavers land better on their own two feet?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and gives some key examples. The employability innovation fund announced in our prisons strategy White Paper will help prisoners to build more partnerships with employers like those at HMP Thorn Cross. I have seen other organisations and initiatives such as twinning projects that are looking into different things and are even using sports such as football to prepare prisoners for leaving prison and contributing positively to their community and future life. Those are great projects, and my hon. Friend gives a good example of a good prison doing great work.

One in three prisoners are released on a Friday, but many support services are closed over the weekend, which makes the transition and route into employment more complicated. It is welcome that the Government have said that they want to end Friday releases. Will the Secretary of State update the House on when that will happen?

The hon. Gentleman makes a clear and correct observation about timing. A private Member’s Bill on the subject—the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill—will come before the House in the next few weeks, and we are looking at it very carefully.

Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd.

Securing employment for offenders is vital to rehabilitation, and the role of experienced probation officers is key to success. Earlier this month, I visited the Caernarfon office of the north Wales probation delivery unit and learned that the region has 27 vacancies in a present workforce of 200. Does the Secretary of State recognise the risk to the effectiveness of rehabilitation and to public safety as a result of the loss of experienced probation staff and increased workloads? Will he commit to no further cuts in probation?

I recognise the challenge across prisons and probation. Making sure that we have the right teams, with staff who have the right experience to work with people, is important in preparing people and avoiding reoffending, which is so important to the safety of our communities. I am very focused on the issue. We are recruiting people across His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service at the moment. I look forward to making sure that we can support people across the country, and I look forward to visiting Wales to see that for myself.

The probation service is not finding jobs for prisoners, because understaffing is at crisis point: the service now faces a shortage of nearly 1,700 officers, according to the MOJ’s own figures. That allows serious offenders such as Katie Piper’s acid attacker to evade monitoring and escape abroad. Will the Secretary of State apologise to victims, including Katie Piper, for letting the probation service get so run down that it can no longer control offenders?

I appreciate that for political reasons the hon. Gentleman will want to do the probation service down. I have to say that I think our probation officers across the country work hard every day, not only to keep communities safe but to help prisoners to rehabilitate and get into communities.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight situations that are not acceptable. The example of Katie Piper is a current one, and it is not acceptable. As Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State, I am determined to do everything I can, working with my ministerial team and the brilliant teams across probation, to ensure that such situations do not happen in future. It is not acceptable, and it should not have happened.