This time of year is often one of reflection, and when I look back at 2016 I am reminded of what a busy and changeable time it has been for criminal justice policy. I know from speaking to our members that this change can create uncertainty and concern for the future—but with change there also comes opportunity. And one opportunity for Clinks to shape policy on behalf of our members came when in March this year, the Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an inquiry into the housing and employment support available for people on their release from prison.
We submitted written evidence to the committee, in partnership with Homeless Link, highlighting:
- the need for resettlement services to be offered to people in prison at the earliest opportunity
- increased transparency of Community Rehabilitation Company and National Probation Service supply chains
- and consistent funding for supported housing to ensure they can continue to accommodate people with the most complex levels of need.
We were delighted to be asked to follow up from our written evidence and the committee invited us, alongside our members Unlock, Working Chance, Revolving Doors Agency and people with lived experience of the Criminal Justice System, to give oral evidence to the committee in September. You can view the evidence session here or read the transcript here.
The Committee has this week published its report. We welcome the report and are pleased that they have responded to many of the issues we, and our members, raised. This blog gives some of the key findings and recommendations from the report and looks at what will happen next.
Developing a consistent strategy
The committee note that “the problem of employment supported in prison is partly one of coordination.” As many of you know, the Criminal Justice System is a complex landscape, and there is currently no clear strategy for how different agencies, in different prisons, should work together to improve employment outcomes for people serving a custodial sentence.
To address this, the committee recommend that “the Government clearly state who has ultimate responsibility for helping prison leavers into work.” As announced in the white paper Prison Safety and Reform, published in November, the Ministry of Justice is developing an employment strategy.
The importance of Release on Temporary Licence
We are pleased to see the committee recognise the importance of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) for supporting rehabilitation. This is something Clinks and Homeless Link specifically highlighted in our response. In January Clinks and Prison Reform Trust published a briefing paper that explored the impact of changes to ROTL policy. In our response to the committee, Clinks and Homeless Link reiterated one of the main recommendations made in the briefing, that there is an “explicit objective to reverse the decline in the use of ROTL for resettlement and rehabilitation, so that the manifest willingness of employers and other organisations to help is not squandered.”
The committee highlight that the ‘gold standard’ for employment support involves employers working in prisons and offering work placements through ROTL. It is positive to see the committee 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.”
Alongside this, it is important that the prisons foster strong links with voluntary sector organisations, many of whom will be able to provide ROTL placements.
Changing employer attitudes
Maintaining and gaining employment is important for many people to support their desistance journey. However, for many a key barrier to this can be the attitude of employers, as the report highlights “many businesses are fearful of hiring ex-offenders—50% of employers would not even consider offering them a job.” We are pleased to see that the committee have therefore recommended that “the 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.” Unlock launched Recruit! earlier in the year which has a wealth of resources for employers to support them to recruit people with convictions and helps them to deal with criminal records fairly. We encourage the Department for Work and Pensions to make full use of this fantastic resource when developing their guidance.
Further to this, the committee welcomes the Government’s decision to ‘ban the box’ for the majority of civil service roles. Ban the Box is a campaign led by Business in the Community which calls for employers to remove the tick box from application forms and ask about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process. The committee recommends 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.”
Following the publication of the Coates review into prison education in May, the funding for providing education in prison has moved from the Department of Education to the Ministry of Justice. We are pleased to see that the committee recommends that “education and training of prisoners be ring-fenced for that purpose to protect it from other calls on prison resources.“
The committee goes on to recommend that “meeting local labour market demands and developing employment support in prison should be a focus of how this money is spent.” As we highlighted in our response to the inquiry, it is also important that engaging in education helps people in prison develop other skills including resilience, self-confidence, communication and team work as these skills are essential for gaining and sustaining formal employment. It is important that learning is holistic as although people need to develop basic literacy, maths and I.T. skills—along with recognisable qualifications to meet labour market demands to find employment upon release—they also need transferable, social and communication skills so employment can be sustained in the long-term.
Building on the recommendations made in the Coates Review, the committee also recommends that “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 prisoner employment needs have been accurately reflected; and educational activities are geared towards helping a prison leaver into employment.” It is essential that people in prison have ownership of their Personal Learning and Employment Plans and that these are coordinated with sentence plans.
Plugging the finance gap
One of the main issues Clinks and others highlighted in responses to the committee is the finance gap experienced by many people leaving prison. We are therefore pleased to see that the committee has outlined that this needs to be plugged. They recommend that “for those prisoners who cannot work, claims for ESA be made in prison and paid on day of release. We have seen no evidence to suggest there are barriers to doing this.”
Universal Credit (UC) will replace Employment Support Allowance (ESA), but as UC is rolled out, the committee says “we welcome the Government’s decision to exempt prisoner leavers from UC waiting days. DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] envisages a large number of prisoners requiring a Benefit Advance. A better approach would be to make the first month’s entitlement to UC available on the day of release.”
Clinks is a member of the Making Every Adult Matter Coalition, alongside Homeless Link and Mind, and we are currently exploring the impact of the roll out of UC on people experiencing multiple and complex needs. Look out for a future blog covering some of our findings.
However, it is unfortunate that the committee has not recommended that the Discharge Grant be increased, as this has remained static at £46 for 21 years.
Ensuring stable accommodation
The committee recognises that secure accommodation is essential for reducing reoffending and received many responses to their inquiry that noted uncertainty about the future and availability of supported housing. As these issues are wider than just support for people leaving prison and relate to other groups (including, amongst others, older people with support needs, people with learning disabilities and people with mental health problems), the committee intends to explore these further. They have launched a joint inquiry with the Communities and Local Government Committee into the future funding of supported housing. It is important to note that alongside this, the Government is also consulting on the future funding of supported housing. Clinks will be speaking to our members and responding to the consultation in the New Year.
“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.”
It is fantastic to see the committee respond to many of the concerns that we raised during their inquiry. The Government now have two months to respond to the report and the recommendations the committee has made. We will keep an eye out and update you all about what they say.