Today the Ministry of Justice launched their Education and Employment strategy at HM Prison Isis. This blog provides a summary of what’s in the strategy, what it means for the voluntary sector and how far its proposals go in unlocking opportunities for people in the criminal justice system.
“Clinks welcomes the Ministry of Justice Education and Employment Strategy and the commitments it makes. However, there are some key issues within the strategy that our sector has been highlighting for too long and which require more concerted action to address than the strategy currently sets out.
Voluntary organisations have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in supporting people in the criminal justice system, both in prison and the community, to find employment. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice to ensure this experience can be utilised in the future as these commitments are taken forward and built upon.” - Anne Fox, Clinks CEO
The intention: unlocking opportunities
The strategy promises a new focus on work as having the potential to provide a foundation for a better life for people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system.
It rightly acknowledges the significant numbers of people leaving prison and failing to find employment and the link this has with reoffending rates. The proportion of offenders in P45 employment one year after release is just 17%, which contributes to higher levels of reoffending and direct costs to the welfare system.
It points to the low numbers of people in prison engaged in purposeful activity which in turn contributes to violence and disruption. It recognises that prison education contracts have delivered qualifications but they have not been tailored closely enough to the requirements of employers or the needs of different cohorts of prisoners. It recognises that prison work has delivered purposeful activity and helped prisons function efficiently but it has not been linked sufficiently to employment opportunities on release.
Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) has also been under-used for both men and women. On release, the strategy highlights initiatives like Ban the Box, but acknowledges that many employers need further encouragement and easy access to prisons.
To address this the strategy makes commitments in three specific areas: education; prison work and ROTL; and employment on release.
Prison education is devolved in Wales and therefore this part of the strategy only applies to England.
The strategy commits to:
a. Establish consistency and minimum standards in a few key areas across the prison estate
b. Empower governors in England to commission the education provision most likely to meet employers’ requirements and prisoners’ needs
c. Provide the right tools and support to governors to make the best use of these powers
d. Establish a new vocational training route for governors to make use of in England and Wales called the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway
e. Couple greater powers for governors with greater accountability for performance.
This approach is essentially a reassertion of the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to the recommendations of the Coates Review.
New arrangements for education contracts, which give more flexibility to governors, are already underway in preparation for the end of the existing offender learning and skills (OLASS) contracts later this year. However, there have already been concerns raised from voluntary organisations about how to engage with this process, in particular the Dynamic Purchasing System. For more information about the Prison Education Framework, which will be how most education services in prison are commissioned from April 2019, and the Dynamic Purchasing System, please visit the Prisoner Education Trust website.
The Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway will be an alternative means of obtaining a qualification and work experience while in custody. The formal 12-month apprenticeship on release will give prisoners the chance to have a long period of resettlement in the community with a guaranteed job and a guaranteed income. The Pathway will be targeted at specific sectors, where there are staff and skills shortages, such as the construction industry. It is intended that the greater powers being devolved to prison governors will help ensure that training is sufficiently tailored to the requirements of employers in these sectors.
Work in prison and ROTL
The strategy commits to:
a. Develop a new approach, through a partnership with The Clink, to tie work already being done by prisoners in prison services, such as cooking in prison kitchens, with employment on release.
There will initially be a pilot at HMP Bristol, HMP Styal and HMP Risley. It’s positive to see that this approach will be developed in partnership with a voluntary organisations with expertise in this area—The Clink. It will apply key elements of the approach The Clink uses in prisons where it runs restaurants. The model will be applied to the work prisoners’ undertake in the prison kitchens (the biggest employment area in prisons – 2,000 people a day in work) and provide a direct route into the contract catering industry on release.
Ensuring that work in prison is meaningful and joined up with rehabilitation and resettlement plans is absolutely the right thing to do. Tackling stubbornly high reoffending rates will only be achieved if all parts of the prison system are working towards a shared goal of rehabilitation and as such this initiative is welcome. Clinks also welcome the Ministry of Justice approach to experimenting and developing learning in this area, which if successful could be shared and implemented in other roles and sectors, including potentially the voluntary sector.
b. Consult governors and employers on proposals to increase the opportunities available to prisoners to gain experience in real workplaces through ROTL.
Increasing the use of ROTL to support people’s transition back into the community and resettlement is long overdue, as such the need for consultation on this is questionable. In 2016 Clinks, in partnership with Prison Reform Trust, published a briefing outlining the significant challenges faced by organisations offering opportunities for ROTL placements and made a series of practical recommendations to overcome these. These recommendations are still valid and should be taken into account in the development of any plan to increase ROTL opportunities. Any additional consultation must also involve the voluntary sector who provide a significant number of training, work and volunteer ROTL opportunities.
Work on release
The strategy commits to:
a. Launch the New Futures Network (NFN) to engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners, with experts placed in every geographical prison group in a phased roll-out across England and Wales.
This will replace ONE3ONE solutions which is currently a part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and is responsible for prison industries. The NFN will have an explicit remit to broker partnerships between prisons and employers that create opportunities for people on release, in addition to delivering purposeful activity in prison.
It will be judged not only on whether more commercial companies provide work through prison industries, or whether more prisoners are engaged in a full working week – vital though those things are, but also on the proportion of people entering employment on release and then staying in work.
It is vital that voluntary organisation who provide much of the current support for getting people into work on release from prison (and indeed provide some of the work opportunities in communities themselves) are linked in with the New Futures Network. Clinks fed in to early thinking on the NFN and will work over coming weeks to ensure that we have engaged effectively enough with the NFN on behalf of our members who mainly work at a local level.
b. Consider how to take forward a National Insurance Contributions (NIC) holiday alongside wider work on employer obligations and incentives.
The Work and Pensions select committee has recommended that the government pilot incentives, using the tax system and public procurement, for employers to take on ex-prisoners. This proposal is supported by leading employers. Meanwhile, the 2017 Conservative manifesto proposed a one-year holiday on Employer National Insurance Contributions for firms employing people who have committed a crime but repaid their debt to society.
Given the support for this policy proposal it is disappointing that the strategy is unable to make a stronger commitment to it.
c. Recruit ex-prisoners directly into the civil service, providing jobs and acting as a role model for other employers.
This Going Forward Into Employment scheme, introduced this year, will be a small scale pilot in the North West. Ten government departments are participating in the scheme which will place ex-offenders into fixed-term office-based roles. Ex-offenders will be matched to jobs by prison staff, Civil Service local and the Going Forward Into Employment board. The job matches will be based on the skills and experience of the ex-offenders for each available role.
d. Work with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to explore ways to deliver enhancements to the current benefit claim process so that ex-prisoners have easier access to financial support on the day of release where needed.
Clinks members have raised this as a vitally important issue which is causing more acute and more complex needs amongst service users. It is therefore significantly urgent that this work with DWP be completed so that the issue is appropriately addressed.
e. Ensure that prisons and National Probation Services (NPS) / Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) work together more seamlessly, by sharpening and aligning accountability for ex-prisoners’ employment on release.
Working relationships between the CRC and NPS are vital to ensure that people being released from prison get the support they need. The relationship between the NPS and CRCs also affects how voluntary organisations in CRC supply chains are able to work and provide support to prisoners on release. This was highlighted in our most recent TrackTR report.
Future announcements to look out for
The strategy makes reference to two key potential future announcements:
- A review of the incentives and punishments for all prisoners
- The approach to managing and rehabilitating female offenders.
Clinks will work to ensure that the voluntary sector is engaged with the implementation of this new strategy and any future policy developments as well as continuing our ongoing work to facilitate engagement between the Ministry of Justice and organisations providing specific services for women in the CJS. Clinks members can keep up to date though our members Policy Briefing.
Latest on Twitter
.@hibiscuscharity have launched a report - funded by Clinks - which explores the complex issues faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the CJS and the resulting impacts on their mental health.
Read the report here: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/media/2023/06/rmc-mental-health-report-document.pdf