Support for ex-offenders Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.The prison and rehabilitation systems are in desperate need of reform. With such serious challenges around safety and capacity, we are concerned that rehabilitation may not be a priority for the prison service. However, the successful rehabilitation of offenders makes moral, social and economic sense. The financial cost of reoffending stands at around £15 billion per year. Added to this is the wider human cost to families and society. (Paragraph 8)

2.We acknowledge that offender rehabilitation is complex and that there is no silver bullet solution. We welcome the Government’s commitment to reform. We are currently still in the foothills and much more needs to be done. (Paragraph 9)

3.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. (Paragraph 19)

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

5.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. (Paragraph 26)

6.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. (Paragraph 34)

7.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.(Paragraph 35)

8.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.(Paragraph 42)

9.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. (Paragraph 43)

10.A good resettlement is one that minimises the impact of moving from support in prison to support in the community. The Government has recognised the importance of smooth transitions but early reports on Through the Gate services paint a disappointing picture. In their research, 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. All too often prisoners face a cliff edge in support once they reach the prison gate. (Paragraph 53)

11.The discharge grant for prisoners has remained fixed for 21 years. Individuals who leave prison with no home, no job and no support may have to live for several weeks on the discharge grant alone. This may encourage them to return to crime. We considered the case for increasing the grant. It is, however, only intended to meet a prisoner’s immediate needs on release. After this, if a prisoner is entitled to benefit support it is preferable for those benefits to be paid promptly rather than increasing the grant. Timely payment of a prisoner’s correct benefit entitlement can help to alleviate financial pressure. The move to allow payment of JSA on day one of a prisoner’s release is welcome. (Paragraph 61)

12.We recommend that, for those prisoners who cannot work, claims for ESA be made in prison and paid on day one of release. We have seen no evidence to suggest there are barriers to doing this. Universal Credit will eventually replace ESA but the timetable for UC continues to be pushed back and in the meantime delays in payment cause avoidable hardship. (Paragraph 62)

13.We welcome the Government’s decision to exempt prisoner leavers from UC waiting days. DWP envisages a large number of prisons requiring a Benefit Advance. A better approach would be to make the first month’s entitlement to UC available on the day of release. (Paragraph 63)

14.Work coaches based in prisons should assess a prisoner’s financial circumstances prior to their release and work with Community Rehabilitation Companies to put the appropriate support in place. DWP should regularly review the data Work Coaches have gathered on prisoner’s financial challenges on release, in order to better understand ex-offenders’ needs. (Paragraph 64)

15.It is unacceptable for ex-offenders who are job-ready and keen to work to be dismissed by JCP as hard cases. We have seen some evidence of good practice but the quality of JCP support should not depend on which branch an ex-offender walks into. Following the end of day one mandation to the Work Programme, an increasing number of prison leavers will rely on JCP for support.(Paragraph 72)

16.All Jobcentres should have a specified person who specialises in helping ex-offenders into employment. This person may be from the third sector or be a JCP employee but they must have expertise on matters such as disclosure of convictions. Ideally the specialist should have experience of the prison system themselves. (Paragraph 73)

17.For some ex-offenders, the Work and Health Programme may be the most appropriate form of support. We recommend that ex-offenders who are ready to work should have access to the Work and Health Programme on a voluntary basis. (Paragraph 74)

18.Information is fundamental to good policy. The Government should be seeking to ensure as many ex-offenders as possible get jobs. 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. This data should then be used to inform Government decisions about employment and education interventions.(Paragraph 79)

19.We applaud those employers who have recognised the benefits of employing and supporting ex-offenders. Until more employers choose to follow suit, ex-offenders remain a largely untapped resource, at a time when many sectors face major skills shortages. We hope that more businesses choose to follow the examples set by Timpson, Virgin Trains and others. (Paragraph 87)

20.Many businesses are fearful of hiring ex-offenders—50% of employers would not even consider offering them a job. This is due to long-standing beliefs about ex-offenders’ reliability and the risks they pose to a company’s public image. Employers need to be encouraged to change their recruitment practices, and given the support to do so. The Government said it wants to recognise and champion those employers who are already employing ex-offenders. We recommend that the Government pilot the reduction of National Insurance contributions for those employers who actively employ ex-offenders. The Government should also consider other ways to recognise and reward employers who take corporate social responsibility seriously and actively employ ex-offenders. It could, for example, be a factor in procurement and commissioning decisions.(Paragraph 92)

21.We recommend that DWP develop practical guidance to help employers recruit ex-offenders. This should include information on spent and unspent convictions, insurance and how to recruit to different roles. It should also include information on businesses who have already hired ex-offenders and what support they can provide to other employers. (Paragraph 93)

22.Ban the Box does not oblige employers to hire ex-offenders but it increases the chance that they will consider them. When ex-offenders are allowed to progress to later stages in the recruitment process and meet employers, they have the opportunity to show their potential. We welcome the Government’s decision to Ban the Box for the majority of civil service roles. We recommend that the Government extend Ban the Box to all public bodies, with exclusions for the minority of roles where it would not be appropriate for security reasons. The Government should also consider making banning the box a statutory requirement for all employers. (Paragraph 99)

23.The successful rehabilitation of ex-offenders is good for the economy. The cost of reoffending to the taxpayer is around £15 billion, plus the cost in benefits for those ex-offenders who want to work but cannot get a job. Helping ex-offenders into work would mean more taxes for the Exchequer and could reduce the skills gap for some industries. 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. (Paragraph 100)

16 December 2016