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I am fully aware of the barriers and complex challenges that people with convictions often have in relation to employment. This Government is working hard to address those issues.
The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 obliges the Scottish Prison Service to seek community benefits from the contracts that it awards. A recent success, for example, was with GeoAmey, which delivers the Scottish courts custody and prisoner escorting service. The community benefits of the contract include employment opportunities in other parts of its business, namely, the construction industry.
HMP Perth has a partnership with Balfour Beatty, which provides work trials to individuals who are on release from custody, following a successful interview. On a recent visit to HMP Perth, I spoke with the building contractor and I saw at first hand the work that is involved in supporting those in custody to engage with that opportunity.
There are also numerous initiatives in establishments, and training and employment opportunities are regularly explored with local partners. The SPS works collaboratively with the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland and a range of third sector agencies in the area.
I understand that many businesses have an excellent reputation for giving ex-offenders a chance. As we know, secure jobs help to reduce reoffending and support families. Employability skills are vital in doing that. However, the Justice Committee’s recent pre-budget report highlighted the need for better co-ordination between the Scottish Government’s justice division and its employability and skills division. What will the Scottish Government do to improve those links?
I take what the Justice Committee says extraordinarily seriously, and we will look at how we can improve multi-agency working, because there is absolutely more that we can do.
It is hugely important that we know that short prison sentences will have a really negative impact on people’s employment. A presumption against short sentences of 12 months or less is designed to effectively punish people if the court deems that to be appropriate but to do so in a way that will not necessarily—it is hoped—disrupt their employment. We know the effect that there can be. A period in custody, even if it is short, can disrupt employment and have an effect on a person’s rehabilitation or, indeed, their chances of reconviction.
I hope that Alison Harris will reflect on that and on the progressive justice measures that we hope to bring forward. I hope that those measures will keep people out of prison.