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Report: prisons should be places of work

A report published last week by independent think tank Onward recommends that prisons should be transformed from places of idleness and boredom, into institutions of education, training and work.

Unlocking a better life” argues that the prison system should be shaken up to put education and employment at the heart of efforts to curb Britain’s stubbornly high reoffending rates.

According to the think tank, Britain’s justice system does little to prepare prisoners for a life away from crime on release, contributing to nearly half of prisoners committing a crime within a year of release.

Despite evidence that having a steady job cuts average reoffending risk by up to 38%, the report finds that the proportion of prisons with a positive purposeful activity rating has fallen 30% since 2012.

The number of prisoners being released on temporary license has dropped by a third, from 6,209 (7.39%) to 4,323 (5.21%) in the last 5 years. The authors also claim that prisoners are not asked about skills or previous employment history on reception to system and have to fight to be put on relevant courses.

The report draws on analysis and field research, including visits to prisons in the UK and Norway.

At the latter, prisoners are under a requirement to do full-time training, education and industry as default – and twice as many prisoners are in sustained employment on release.

To improve the availability of training and jobs for prisoners, Onward argues that leading employers and businesses should be more involved with the justice system, coordinated by the New Futures Network, a new government body established last year.

The report makes 9 key recommendations, including redesigning the prisoner journey to track offenders from reception through education and into employment and introducing a legal requirement for every prisoner to be in education, training or work for 40 hours per week. The report also recommends measures to improve work-readiness among prisoners,  help prisons to build links with employers and support prisoners into sustained employment on release.

The report has received praise from a host of MPs, peers and organisations who support the employment of offenders, including Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt, who said:

Technological change is going to bring huge opportunities but we must equip everyone in our country with the skills they need to benefit. Only by ensuring we leave no communities, regions or sectors behind will we deliver the economic renewal and higher growth on which our aspirations depend. This report from Onward is a hugely impressive and timely contribution to that challenge.

Photo: c. Jason Smith, licensed under Creative Commons