I hope you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to express on behalf of the whole House our utter disgust at the attempted murder of a prison officer in east Belfast on Friday. I am sure that prison officers throughout the United Kingdom will join us in wishing him a full recovery from his injuries.
I meet regularly with businesses and trade bodies to talk about the benefits of employing offenders on release. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of changes to recruitment practices for the civil service, to give offenders a fair chance of a job, I am keen to encourage all employers to “ban the box” when recruiting.
May I associate myself with the Minister’s initial remarks?
Given the reoffending rates of those who leave prison and manage to secure employment—the evidence shows that fewer than half reoffend, compared with those who do not secure employment—will the Minister support initiatives such as the excellent Footprints project in Dorset, which provides help and mentoring through its team of volunteers? Will he ensure that such projects operate a clear and transparent process of referrals from the new community rehabilitation companies?
I warmly commend the important work that Footprints is doing in Dorset. I want to see greater use of the voluntary sector, and an increased focus on offender employment on the part of CRCs. I made those points to CRC leaders only last week.
How can we ensure that prisoners do not become institutionalised as a result of seeing prisons as “safe havens”, rather than rebuilding their lives once they have been released?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. We need to help prisoners to take responsibility for their lives, and that includes helping them to find legal work in order to support their families. I believe that the Prime Minister’s announcement that we will measure employment outcomes for prisoners will drive further progress.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of Goodwill Solutions in Northampton, which is running a “back to work” programme that is helping ex-offenders, homeless people, those with substance dependencies, and vulnerable young people to secure training and employment in the logistics sector?
I certainly welcome the work of Goodwill Solutions in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but the truth is that we do not have labour shortages only in the logistics area. We have them in construction, engineering, catering and many other areas, which is why I am very ambitious about increasing offender employment.
As was noted by my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson, the key to rehabilitation is employment, and the key to employment is training. What is the Department doing to encourage all employers to take an interest in training inside prisons, in order to help offenders to find employment?
That is an extremely important point. The model that I like best is that of the Clink restaurants and the Timpson, Halfords and Aramark academies, which offer demanding work and training in prison and a job and ongoing support on release. It works: I call it the gold standard. Clink graduates, who probably include some of my constituents, are now working at some of London’s top hotels and restaurants.
We have heard the Minister make a commitment to providing education and employment for prisoners, but surely he is aware that the shortage of prison officers is causing many prisoners to be locked in their cells for long periods, unable to gain access to education and training opportunities. Will he commission a report from within the Department on the impact of staff shortages on prisoners’ education and employment, given that, as many have pointed out, the best way of ensuring that people do not reoffend is to get them into jobs?
The hon. Lady has made a valid point. The good news is that last year we appointed 2,250 prison officers—that is a net increase of 440—and we will continue to recruit the prison officers whom we need.
Employment is the single biggest factor that prevents reoffending, and I remind the House of the excellent changes that were made under the coalition Government in 2012, but will the Minister update us on what cross-departmental work takes place? This is a process that must start within the prison system but must continue afterwards, and that is obviously the job of the Department for Work and Pensions.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is indeed some very good cross-departmental working. The Social Justice Cabinet Committee takes the issue very seriously, and I have had outstanding help from the Employment Minister, who has been extremely supportive. We have been given plenty of practical help by the DWP, the construction industry and training organisations. Buses are sent into prisons so that prisoners can complete their construction skills certification scheme cards, and sewing machines have been bought so that they can use them after their release.
What I can say to the hon. Lady is that we are building a prison estate that is fit for purpose. The Chancellor has just given us £1.3 billion to build nine new prisons, we are opening two new house blocks and we are about to open HMP Berwyn in February next year, so we are in the process of building a fit-for-purpose prison estate.