Support for ex-offenders Contents

1Education and employment in prison

10.Education services for prisoners aged 18 and over are primarily delivered by the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS).25 OLASS providers are responsible for conducting mandatory assessments of English and maths attainment, teaching basic English and maths skills, and teaching vocational courses and employability skills.

11.In addition to OLASS, a number of different providers offer a range of employment support in some prisons. These include:

12.This landscape of education and employment support has been described as “fragmented, duplicated and difficult to navigate”.26 Matt John, a prison leaver, told us that the problem was not resourcing but “a lack of co-ordination in terms of guiding individuals towards specific professions or specific jobs.” Seetec, which operates three Work Programme contracts and a CRC, concurred:

Availability of support is not currently the issue [ … ] there is too much complexity with a breadth of providers with differing outcome drivers and a lack of structured signposting.27

13.There is inconsistency in the courses and skills offered between prisons. This is a problem when prisoners are moved, sometimes at short notice, due to capacity. We heard it was not uncommon for individuals to start a course but then be moved to a prison which offers different provision.28 In her review of education in prison, Dame Sally Coates found there was too much variation in the requirements of different awarding bodies for basic skills:

Education in prisons should be underpinned by a coherent set of basic skills qualifications (English, maths and ICT) that enable a learner to progress to Level 3 and beyond, even if they move across the prison estate to a place where education is supplied by a different provider. At the moment, prison learners may have to start courses again if they move part-way through a course because their new prison’s education provider uses a different awarding body.29

14.The quality of provision appeared dependent on individual governors or other staff. Darren Burns, National Recruitment Ambassador at Timpson, told us

Some prisons are extremely forward-thinking, which is often a result of a prison governor who is prepared to work with resettlement and is really serious about rehabilitation. [ … ]For us, we try to target and identify the prisons that we feel we can work with best to get the best outcomes. There are huge inconsistencies.30

Working Chance, a charity that works to rehabilitate female ex-offenders, said areas of good practice were “often down to individual workers rather than consistent standards across the whole prison system.”31

Responsibility for employment

15.Sam Gyimah accepted that employment support was “patchy, inconsistent and does not happen everywhere”, and that this inconsistency was reflected in employability and reoffending rates.32 He explained that part of the solution was to give prison governors more freedom to determine the curriculum and training offered in prisons.33 This follows from Dame Sally Coates’ recommendation that prison governors be given new autonomy in the provision of education and training, and be held accountable for educational progress.34

16.The move to grant governors more autonomy has been broadly welcomed by stakeholders.35 There are, however, limitations. We heard that devolving skills training to individual governors could mean that “the patchwork nature of provision that is already in existence is liable to be exacerbated.”36 Jocelyn Hillman, Chief Executive of Working Chance, told us

There are so many people that you have to have a really first-rate number one governor who is in control of what is happening. That is difficult and it is rare.37

It is also unclear how far governors’ new responsibilities extend to improving employment rates for prison leavers.

17.We heard from Government Ministers that there is there is “no one person responsible for a prisoner’s employment”.38 There will be an “expectation” on CRCs to do the work in order to achieve employment for prisoners. We also heard that governors will be the “ringmasters” for services to improve employment and reoffending rates.39 The Minister for Employment, Damian Hinds MP, told us about the shared responsibility for prisoner employment:

On the question of which single person is responsible, it is definitely right that there have to be clear lines of accountability. The reforms and the future plans that Sam [Gyimah] is outlining go to the heart of that, but we also see this as a shared responsibility. I think you can look at just one person being responsible in two ways, either as a positive or a negative. We think this is a group of people for whom there is such a premium to place them into employment that we absolutely share that responsibility and so do many other groups in society.40

18.The absence of a single point of responsibility was cited as a problem for those working in the prison system. Unlock, a prisoner charity, said that the roles and responsibilities of different agencies are unclear.41 They added that it was difficult for prison leavers to understand who could help them with employment. The Prison Reform Trust, a charity that works to improve the prison system, said:

Simply adding Governors to the long list of individuals and agencies already charged to make a difference in this area will not make things better unless the current confusion of responsibilities is resolved first.42

19.The problem of employment support in prison is partly one of coordination. Over the course of a prisoner’s sentence, various agencies and individuals are responsible for helping them to find work on release. Difficulties occur where responsibility changes or overlaps and there is no continuity. It is not clear that an increase in governor autonomy will improve consistency across the whole system. 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. This is partly due to the absence of a single point of responsibility.

20.We recommend that the Government clearly state in response to this report who has ultimate responsibility for helping prison leavers into work.

Planning for the future

21.Planning for future employment should be part of the prisoner journey from induction. For many offenders, this employment planning will need to start with the basic qualifications required for a job or an apprenticeship in order to “get them to the starting line” in competing for jobs.43 A 2005–06 survey estimated that 47% of prisoners had no school qualifications, including GCSEs.44 Matt John told us “I went to prison with no qualifications and came out with a degree. It is about being able to access education.”45 He found work within two weeks of release.

22.On entering prison, it is Government policy that all newly-sentenced prisoners and prisoners on remand should have a mandatory English and maths assessment. As part of this inquiry, we visited the resettlement prison HMP Featherstone in Staffordshire. Staff there told us that basic skills assessments are often inaccurate and learning difficulties are sometimes identified very late in a prisoner’s sentence. The NUS said:

Although the new mandatory assessments in literacy and numeracy are expected to screen for disabilities, they largely fail those with learning difficulties as the process is reliant on self-reporting or on staff who may not have appropriate training picking up on issues.46

23.It is also Government policy that prison staff carry out a Basic Custody Screening Assessment (BCSA), in order to identify a prisoner’s resettlement needs, including education, training and employment requirements. A recent joint report by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found that, for prisoners serving short sentences, basic custody screenings were “wholly inadequate” and did not “address the most urgent resettlement needs”.47

24.Dame Sally Coates recommended that every prisoner have a Personal Learning Plan.48 She said that Learning Plans should specify the educational activity to be undertaken during custody, be digital so they can easily follow the prisoner and be developed with the engagement of the prisoner. Not all prisoners will be ready to work on release but, where appropriate, plans should be directed towards an “employment pathway”.49 She found that existing learning plans were of a variable quality and that three fifths of prisoners left prison without an identified education or employment outcome.50

25.There is scope for Jobcentre staff based in prisons to make a greater contribution to employment planning. DWP has 150 prison Work Coaches, known as Employment and Benefit Advisers (EBAs), working across prisons.51 The Government said that it wants to “bring about a greater focus on employment throughout custody, for those Jobcentre staff who work in prisons.”52 We saw good practice at HMP Featherstone, where the EBA is co-located with the National Careers Service and meets all prisoners at induction.

26.The Government is already looking to develop the role of Jobcentre Plus staff based in prison. These staff are ideally placed to ensure that prisoner assessments accurately reflect a prisoner’s employment needs and to contribute to early employment planning. Individual prisoners will have different needs from basic English and maths skills, to vocational training, to formal qualifications. Building on the recommendation by Dame Sally Coates, all prisoners who will be ready for work on release should have Personal Learning and Employment Plans. We recommend that Work Coaches in prisons sign-off on these Plans to ensure that

a)prisoner employment needs have been accurately reflected; and

b)educational activities are geared towards helping a prison leaver into employment.

DWP should conduct regular reviews of a sample of Personal Learning and Employment Plans to ensure that they are being signed-off appropriately.

The employment offer in prison

27.Once a prisoner’s employment needs have been identified, they need access to the right courses and employment programmes to meet those needs. The appropriate range of courses and qualifications will differ between prisons. There are certain ingredients however that appear to create a recipe for success: employers based in or able to access prisons; the use of Release on Temporary License (ROTL) wherever possible;53 qualifications that are valued by employers; and reflecting gaps in the local job market.

28.There is widespread agreement that starting work whilst still in prison can help prisoners to stay in work once they leave. Dr Anne Pike, an ex-Ofsted inspector, said:

The best practice I saw was where prisoners were provided with real employment before release, which was then continued and well-supported post-release (e.g. Timpson). Thus prisoners must obtain ROTL or the employer should provide work within the prison.54

29.We took evidence from Timpson and Virgin Trains, two companies who work inside prisons to identify potential employees. Timpson runs workshops inside five prisons. Darren Burns, National Recruitment Ambassador at Timpson, told us:

Think of it like one of our high street stores that we have picked up and just dropped into a prison. Rather than prisoners working on the wing, serving tea and coffee to the officers, working on the servery—things that aren’t very vocational—we get them to put on a Timpson uniform. These guys—and girls, because we work in the female estates—turn up to our training academies and we give them full training in all the services that we provide to the public. Once the guys are fully skilled, we meet them at the gate, give them a uniform, introduce them to colleagues and put them to work straightaway.55

Both Timpson and Virgin Trains also go into prisons to conduct job interviews. Tammy Moreton agreed that the best way to help people into work was to get employers into prisons:

I think it is about helping while they are still in prison because there is a lot of it—the majority of the time—where you are just sitting around and you have not got anything to do [ … ] In my personal experience, I think what Virgin and Timpson do is a great idea. It does help and it starts getting more skills and better skills than just what the prison itself can offer.56

30.Sam Gyimah agreed that employers working inside prisons was a model for success:

What we are seeing in terms of what works very well on a system-wide basis is where you have employment academies in prisons. You have it with Timpson’s, you have it with Greggs and you have it with the likes of Clinks, where training in prisons, release on temporary licence and eventual employment are all linked seamlessly. It is that kind of system that allows us to create a conveyor belt of employment rather than patchy initiatives.57

31.We heard, however, that it is not straightforward for employers to work in prisons or to secure ROTL for their apprentices. Unlock told us that prisons and CRCs “do not offer a consistent form of support or point of contact for employers interested in this area.”58 Darren Burns told us that some prisons were very proactive on engaging with employers but that there were “huge inconsistencies across the board.”59 Nathan Dick, Head of Policy and Communications at Clinks, said

In a survey we did with the Prison Reform Trust of the private sector and charities, we heard two-thirds of them saying they found it much more difficult to engage with prisons, to get in there, to get people released on temporary licence.60

32.Unlock described ROTL as a “critical bridge between prison and the community.”61 It helps to prepare prisoners for formal employment and can help to bring stability to their lives on release. The Government told us that the use of ROTL is part of the “gold standard” in vocational training offered by employers.62

33.In March 2015, Prison Service Instruction 13/2015, which placed restrictions on the use of ROTL, was published. This followed three serious breaches of ROTL in 2013 when temporarily released prisoners had committed offences. Since then the number of incidences of ROTL has steadily declined and stakeholders said it is now much harder for prisoners to secure ROTL.63 Unlock said the current process prisons use for ROTL is not particularly welcoming or engaging for external organisations:

It takes a committed employer to remain patient with the bureaucracy and unnecessary processes. For a commercial organisation, which does not have the support of people with convictions at its core, this could easily result in a blanket refusal to engage.64

Working Chance said it had stopped the use of ROTL as “relationships with employers were being jeopardised when candidates were not released in time to start their placements.”65

34.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. This smooths the path to employment. Employers need to be welcomed into prisons and should be able to expect the same support across the prison system. ROTL for prisoners must be granted safely but the process for willing employers should be simple.

35.We recommend that all prisons be required to demonstrate strong links with employers, including local businesses, and ensure that the rules and processes for securing ROTL are straightforward and consistent. In addition, all prisons should be required to offer workshop courses, apprenticeships or similar employment opportunities with real employers. This should be a performance objective for governors and DWP Work Coaches in prisons. We consider employer attitudes to hiring ex-offenders in chapter 3 of this report.

36.In order to create real job opportunities for ex-offenders, and build links with businesses, prisons need to offer courses and qualifications to meet skills gaps. Rachel Reynolds, Head of the Employment Commissioning Group, National Offender Service, told us of the benefits of matching the employment offer to local demand:

One particularly good example we have at the moment is that at HMP Brixton last week we opened a scaffolding workshop. It is very new but the first four graduates went straight into work and the local employers are queuing up to take the next 20, with guaranteed jobs if they get through the system.66

37.Over the course of this inquiry, we have seen many other examples of good practice, such as work done by the organisation Blue Sky. The company works with employers to understand their operational and labour needs. They then place ex-offenders with employers and give ongoing support whilst they are with the business. Blue Sky delivers training in prisons and holds operational contracts around London, the South-East and the South-West. This good practice does not however appear to be nationwide. Matt John told us that there were plenty of providers in prisons but “they are not really geared towards what is required in that local area.”67 The Shaw Trust, a charity that works with ex-offenders, found that training delivered in prisons was “often not linked to the jobs available in the local labour market, and did not adequately help to develop the core soft skills employers look for in an ideal candidate.”68

38.The qualifications offered in prison also need to be of value to employers. Jocelyn Hillman told us:

The skills they are teaching, particularly in women’s prisons, are not particularly applicable to today’s world. They are not teaching them anything that you need in 21st century Britain. They are teaching them hairdressing. We don’t need hairdressers. We have too many hairdressers in this country. They are teaching them sewing. Life has moved on [ … ] Women in prison should be taught how to do Excel spreadsheets, coding and business administration.69

She also said that NVQ 2 was generally the highest qualification available. Novus, a major education provider in women’s prisons, said that the level of qualifications available was “a consequence of restrictions within OLASS contracts”.70

39.We heard that female offenders had specific needs when leaving prison, which needed to be considered alongside employment support. Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, a project that works to reduce female offending and imprisonment, said that more work needed to be done to address female ex-offender’s self-esteem and confidence.71 The Prison Reform Trust told us that greater consideration should be given to “demands of any childcare or care of elderly dependent relatives.”72 Working Chance, agreed that childcare was a particular problem for female ex-offenders:

Obviously, they usually have children—most of our candidates have children—and they may be main carers, so you have all that to deal with.

Children will be with either a parent or a foster carer when the women come out and their first priority is to get their children back. That is part of what they want to do. 73

40.In August this year, our Chair wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice to suggest the piloting of short, sharp apprenticeship courses that cover building trades such as bricklaying and carpentry. These courses would be geared towards local and national labour shortages.74 Sam Gyimah responded that governors have been empowered to make decisions about services and that they “may well wish to develop the type of training you suggest”.75 Under the new freedoms, prisons will be assessed on the quality of work opportunities offered, although the measures for this appear relatively narrow and have yet to be fully developed. The Government said it will include measures on “the number of hours worked in industry” and, in future years, “the time prisoners spend out of their cells”.76

41.The move to give governors more freedom is welcome and it is right that they should be held accountable. They will, however, need support and adequate resources to deliver the right opportunities for prisoners. Sam Gyimah told us that the £130 million education budget for prisons would be moved from the Department for Education to MoJ so that governors can use the money more effectively.77 This will give them more control over spending on education and training but is not new resource. The Jobcentre Plus (JCP) staff based in prisons are ideally placed to help identify local demand. Currently, the role of JCP staff in prisons seems narrow. Tammy Moreton told us that she only met the prison Work Coach once, in order to set up a JSA claim prior to release.78 The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) acknowledged that the introduction of JCP staff in prisons was positive but added:

There is concern that provision in prisons can focus on processes such as benefit claims, rather than positive employment support, including understanding an individuals’ assets, barriers and aspirations and support with job matching.79

The Prison Reform Trust suggested that the role of JCP in prisons be revised to deliver a “more constructive transition on release rather than one that just emphasises signing on.”80

42.Damian Hinds indicated that he wanted to revise the role of Work Coaches in prisons to include work on local labour market opportunities.81 He added that DWP was developing a new approach for Jobcentres to “generate more robust, localised data to be shared in a uniform way.”82 We welcome the suggestion that the Work Coach role in prisons will be revised to include more focus on local labour market needs. We recommend that Work Coaches in prison are responsible for identifying local labour market demands. They should then work with the governor to determine what courses, qualifications and training should be offered in the prison. Governors and Work Coaches must be able to demonstrate how this offer reflects labour market demand.

43.We recommend that the funding transferred from the Department for Education to the Ministry of Justice for the education and training of prisoners be ring-fenced for that purpose to protect it from other calls on prison resources. Meeting local labour market demands and developing employment support in prison should be a focus of how this money is spent.


25 With the exception of eight private prisons.

26 Novus (SEO0038)

27 Seetec (SEO0015)

28 ERSA/ AELP (SEO0039)

30 Q41 Darren Burns

31 Working Chance (SEO0024)

32 Q156 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

33 Q178 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

35 For example see, Novus (SEO0038), City Guilds (SEO0022)

36 ERSA/ AELP (SEO0039)

37 Q114 (Jocelyn Hillman)

38 Q153 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

39 Ibid

40 Q159 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

41 Unlock (SEO0029)

42 Prison Reform Trust (SEO0023)

43 Q84 (Paul Anders)

44 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

45 Q109 (Matt John)

46 National Union of Students (SEO0031)

49 Ibid

50 Ibid

51 Q159 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

52 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

53 Release on Temporary License allows prisoners to leave the prison for a short time. This can be for a number of reasons, including taking part in activities to help them prepare for release. Some prisoners cannot get ROTL including: category A prisoners and prisoners subject to extradition proceedings.

54 Dr Anne Pike (SEO0049)

55 Q19 (Darren Burns)

56 Q38 (Tammy Moreton)

57 Q187 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

58 Unlock (SEO0029)

59 Q49 (Darren Burns)

60 Q150 (Nathan Dick)

61 Unlock (SEO0029)

62 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

63 See Clinks and Homeless Link (SEO0036), Lendlease (SEO0045)

64 Unlock (SEO0029)

65 Working Chance (SEO0024)

66 Q168 (Rachel Reynolds)

67 Q110 (Matt John)

68 Shaw Trust (SEO0035)

69 Q116 (Jocelyn Hillman)

70 Novus (SEO0058)

71 Tomorrow’s Women Wirral (SEO0057)

72 Prison Reform Trust (SEO0023)

73 Q129 (Jocelyn Hillman and Lisa Hubbard)

76 MoJ, Prison Safety and Reform, November 2016

77 Q178 and 129 (Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

78 Q50 (Tammy Moreton)

79 ERSA/ AELP (SEO0039)

80 Prison Reform Trust (SEO0023)

81 Q173 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

82 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)




16 December 2016