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Prison Education and Employment Strategy — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:14 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 4:14 pm, 17th October 2018

The core of the answer is that we must give governors the freedom to adjust to the prisoners. They must take responsibility for that. One of the big changes in this framework is that we have taken power out of the centre and given it to governors so they can do exactly that. How are governors doing that? Increasingly, numeracy, literacy and budgeting skills are taught through the upholstery, carpentry and construction courses. The best way to get people to learn those things is often to focus on the practical vocational skills, and attach life skills to them.

In Yorkshire—I want to pursue this example a bit further—the New Futures Network gets people with the prisons group director to connect directly to employers. It reaches out to employers’ boards and ensures that employers understand what is on offer in the prison. I pay tribute not just to Paul Foweather, the prisons group director in Yorkshire, but to organisations such as Tempus Novo. My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch asked about voluntary organisations. Tempus Novo is a charity run by two terrific ex-prison officers who have spent 25 years working on the landings. They left as band 4 officers—not governing-grade officers—and set up that organisation. They walk with employers into the prison, introduce them to the prisoners, reassure them about what is involved in employing offenders, and go into the workplace with the offender for the first interview. If any problems emerge in the workplace, Tempus Novo follows them up.

In the end, education and employment for prisoners is not about big ideas or fancy strategies. It is about doing 50 or 60 things well and looking carefully at the quality of what we are delivering. It is about speaking to prison governors and prisoners and saying, “What is going wrong with the curriculum? How many hours a day are you able to spend in the classroom? Is the fan working in the classroom? Are the teachers actually turning up? Is the qualification you got of any use in the outside world? Yes, you are beginning to go on an apprenticeship scheme, but are you able to connect it to the Government system? Yes, you are learning how to abseil, but are you getting the health and safety support to be able to turn that into being a window cleaner on a high-altitude building? What are we doing with release on temporary licence”—that is a question from my hon. Friend—“to make sure we give people the chance to spend time in an employer’s workplace before they leave prison formally?” Changing that is about changing a dozen small rules. We must ensure there is not a statutory lie-down period in each new prison, so that if a person is released on temporary licence in one prison and moves to another prison, they do not suddenly have to sit back in the prison and lose touch with their workplace.

If we get all those things right—it will be hard yards—we can make a difference. At the moment, only 20% of prisoners who leave prison get a job. If we can get it up to 25% or 30%, it would be fantastic and would change nearly 40 years of stagnation. Those do not sound like big numbers, but nearly 200,000 people circle through our criminal justice system every year. Every one of those people we get into a job is 7% less likely to reoffend. That translates not just into tens of thousands of families with an income and somebody at home with a job, but into thousands fewer crimes and thousands fewer victims of crime. It leads to a society that is healthier and safer.

At the core of this is our belief in the capacity for humans to change, and in our incredibly hard-working prison officers, governors and prisons group directors who are driving through this change. Employers such as Timpson take a huge risk, but they put a lot of energy into understanding prisoners, their needs and the skills they need to stand eight hours a day on the shop floor dealing with customers. If we get all those things right, we can be proud not just of our criminal justice system and our education strategy but of our society.

Question put and agreed to.