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Sunday, 25 October 2020

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New Skills Fund to unlock £500m per year employment potential of UK prison population

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UNLOCKING the skills potential of the UK’s prison population could put £500million a year back into the economy in lowering reoffending rates alone, a much-needed boost as we seek to rebuild the economy following COVID-19, new analysis from the City & Guilds Foundation suggests.

The findings come as City & Guilds, the leading skills development provider, launches an ambitious new Future Skills Commission for Prisons to use jobs and training to help divert prisoners from committing crimes upon release. Currently, around three in 10 of the 75,000 released from sentences every year go on to offend again at an estimated social and economic cost of £18.1bn.

Data shows that getting into work soon after release cuts re-offending by a third. City & Guilds research shows that prisoners who receive formal skills training in prison improve employment prospects on release from 50% to 89%. With 75,000 prisoners released each year, improving skills is key to both keeping ex-offenders out of prison and also enabling them to make a valuable contribution to the community.

Yet as the economy navigates the post-lockdown recession, rising unemployment and a dramatically changing workplace, the barriers to employment are increasing for ex-offenders. To find interventions to these challenges, the Future Skills Commission for Prisons has launched a £1 million Big Idea Fund, looking for new ways of delivering skills in prisons – focusing on what offenders and ex-offenders are capable of achieving, providing ongoing training and support, and matching their skills to the jobs market they will enter on release. Work is already underway in awarding grants so that innovative programmes can begin as soon as practical, with access to prisons cautiously opening up across the estates post the pandemic lockdown.

Ian Bickers Deputy Director, Education, Employment and Industries Group, who is leading the prison response to Education & Work during COVID-19 and a member of the Future Skills Commission for Prisons said:

“I know how hard prisons have worked to prevent the spread of coronavirus and maintain the welfare of offenders in custody. However, I am concerned that the conditions into which offenders will be released from prison are probably the most challenging we have ever seen, particularly with regards to their employment prospects. Coronavirus has inevitably limited the opportunities for skills training on the prison estate, as it has outside, and so obtaining employment after release is likely to be more difficult than usual. It is therefore critical that we find opportunities for prisoners to develop skills that will have genuine value to employers in the new economic climate – or we risk exacerbating the cycle of reoffending for this generation of prison-leavers.”

James Timpson, Chief Executive of the Timpson Group of retailers, one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK and a member of the Future Skills Commission for Prisons, said:

“As we look to rebuild our economy in the coming months it is hugely important that we recognise the potential ex-offenders have to play in this. I know from my own business what a contribution they can make to any organisation’s success and how much better it is that people released from prison have the opportunities they need to make a fresh start. We must ensure that ex-offenders have the skills and training they need to have the chance to find work and avoid re-offending. The pandemic is already leading to huge changes in the jobs market and unless we do everything we can to prepare prisoners we are setting them up to fail, with the inevitable cost to the taxpayer.”

Studies show that prisoners have skills and experiences that can be better utilised:

  • Offenders are more likely to have a functional level of numeracy than the wider general public
  • Around a quarter of inmates have held a steady job within the two years prior to their sentence (but it takes two years after release for employment rates to recover to that level, during which vulnerability to re-offending is high)
  • Prisoners who have had a job are more likely to get another one and less likely to re-offend

Using prison sentences to provide relevant training can also reduce re-offending and costs to the taxpayer, as research shows that:

  • Prisoners who take any form of learning activity have a significantly lower re-offending rate on release than their peers
  • Employment reduces re-offending by a third. Non-offending is estimated to provide £25,000 per person per year back to the Exchequer, through increased tax, reduced costs and long- term health benefits
  • If they do re-offend, prison learners receive a shorter sentence on re-offence, whereas prison non-learners receive a longer subsequent term on average

The Future Skills Commission for Prisons is seeking to find new ways to tap into this potential and join up the gaps in the system that are preventing it from being realised. Earlier this year it invited charities, prison governors and other potential providers to come forward with plans that can be supported this year and rolled out more widely if successful.

Kirstie Donnelly, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, said:

“The role of City & Guilds in helping people build skills and find practical routes into employment, no matter what their circumstances, rings truer than ever. People leaving prisons at this moment in time are exceptionally vulnerable, and it is, therefore, paramount that the Future Skills Commission for Prisons delivers against its objective of reducing reoffending for good – both limiting the burden of offending on society and developing the people we need, for the world we wake up in tomorrow.”

The Fund is the first major initiative of the City & Guilds Foundation’s new Future Skills Commission for Prisons, which is seeking to transform how meaningful workplace training and not just basic skills courses can be given to offenders inside prisons, and how ex-offenders are not forgotten about afterwards but given continued support into employment.

The first award of £285,000 has been made to Groundwork, to support a land-based employment project geared towards Green Industries so we can ‘Build Back Better’ in the aftermath of lockdown. It will provide a bespoke package of carbon literacy, construction and land management skills and employability working with a range of employers to provide work placements and pathways into employment. The programme has been designed and work will begin in two pilot prisons in the new year, as access to prison estates resumes following the extended coronavirus lockdown.

There is great potential in delivering this project at scale. A similar recent Groundwork project – Groundwork Fencing and Landscaping – delivers commercially secured contracts of fencing, landscaping and maintenance. It uses those contracts to provide 6-month waged jobs for ex-offenders to help break the cycle of re-offending. This has employed more than 200 people recently released from custody or completing community orders – including PPO’s and MAPPA cases – with 42% sustaining employment for more than 6 months and 85% completing an accredited qualification.

Dame Sally Coates, chair of the new Future Skills Commission for Prisons, said:

“If we are to successfully rehabilitate prisoners into the community, it is critical that we get education in prison right. Without opportunities to develop meaningful skills, individuals will lack the resources to move away from a life of crime and add value to society. There are some great initiatives around, that seek to deliver high quality and impactful education that starts from entry into prison and continues right through to sustained employment; but this needs to become the norm, rather than the exception. Finding these pockets of excellence, proving their worth, and helping them scale up is at the forefront of the mission of this Commission.”

For more information visit the City & Guilds Foundation Future Skills Commission for Prisons site at: https://cityandguildsfoundation.org/future-skills-commission-for-prisons/

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