The Government’s own assessment of the prison system is that it fails to rehabilitate or make sure criminals are prevented from reoffending. The cost to the taxpayer of reoffending stands at around £15 billion per year. It is in society’s interest to bring this cost down. Members of this Committee have assisted constituents with first-hand experience of failures in rehabilitation; individuals leaving prison with no fixed accommodation, no financial support and no prospect of finding work. Employment significantly reduces the chances of reoffending. It can also lead to other positive outcomes that have been shown to reduce reoffending, such as financial security and finding a safe and permanent home. We have heard from businesses who have successfully worked with prisons to get ex-offenders into jobs but more employers must follow suit.
Individuals entering prison have a range of complex needs. Nearly one-third report a learning difficulty or disability and almost half report having no school qualifications. They enter a prison system where the landscape of education and employment support is fragmented, and good practice is patchy and inconsistent. Added to this are the challenges of rising levels of violence in prisons, a reduction in prison officer numbers and pressure on capacity.
The problem of employment support in prison is partly one of coordination. Currently, there is no clear strategy for how different agencies, in different prisons, should work together to achieve the common goal of getting ex-offenders into work. We urge the Government to state clearly who has ultimate responsibility for helping prison leavers into work.
The Government, charities, employers and ex-offenders themselves all agree that the ‘gold standard’ of employment support involves employers working in prisons and offering work placements through Release on Temporary License. Over the course of this inquiry, we have seen many examples of good practice, such as work done by Blue Sky, a company that works to understand employer’s labour needs, delivers training in prisons and places ex-offenders into jobs.
We recommend that all prisons be required to demonstrate strong links with employers, including local businesses. Prisons should also ensure that the rules and processes for securing Release on Temporary License are straightforward and consistent. In addition, all prisons should be required to offer workshop courses, apprenticeships or similar employment opportunities with real employers.
The Government recognises the importance of smooth transitions and in May 2015 it introduced Through the Gate provision. These services are provided by Community Rehabilitation Companies and should include support with finding employment, securing accommodation, finance and debt advice and help for victims of domestic abuse. Early reports on Through the Gate services, however, paint a disappointing picture. All too often prisoners face a cliff edge in support once they reach the prison gate. In researching resettlement services for short-term prisoners HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons did not encounter a single prisoner who had been helped into employment by Through the Gate provision.
Following the end of day one mandation to the Work Programme, an increasing number of ex-offenders will rely on Jobcentre Plus (JCP) Work Coaches for employment support. We have seen some evidence of good practice but the quality of JCP support is not consistent. It is unacceptable for ex-offenders who are job-ready and keen to work to be dismissed by JCP as hard cases. All Jobcentres should have a specified person who specialises in helping ex-offenders into employment. Ex-offenders who are ready to work should also have access to the Work and Health Programme on a voluntary basis.
Timely payment of a prisoner’s correct benefit entitlement can help to alleviate financial pressure and can discourage reoffending. The move to allow payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance on day one of a prisoner’s release is welcome. We recommend that claims for Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit also be made in prison and paid on day one of release.
Information is fundamental to good policy. We are astonished by the current lack of data on employment for prison leavers. Community Rehabilitation Companies should be required to track the outcomes of the prisoners they resettle, including whether they have helped them into work.
We applaud those employers who recognise the benefits of employing and supporting ex-offenders. Until more employers choose to follow suit, ex-offenders remain a largely untapped resource. We hope that more businesses choose to follow the examples set by Timpson, Virgin Trains and others.
Many businesses are fearful of hiring ex-offenders—50% of employers would not even consider offering them a job. Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and given the support to do so. We recommend that the Government pilot the reduction of National Insurance contributions for those employers who actively employ ex-offenders. We also recommend that DWP develop practical guidance to help employers recruit ex-offenders. This should include information on spent and unspent convictions and should challenge misconceptions regarding employing ex-offenders.
We welcome the Government’s decision to remove the criminal record disclosure section on initial job applications for the majority of civil service roles. Ban the Box does not oblige employers to hire ex-offenders but it increases the chance that they will consider them. We recommend that the Government extend Ban the Box to all public bodies, with exclusions for roles where it would not be appropriate. The Government should also consider making banning the box statutory for all employers.
Ex-offenders who have served their sentence and want to change their lives deserve a second chance. Prisons, the Government and employers all have a responsibility, and an interest, to help them take it.
16 December 2016