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Employment of prisoners and prison leavers to plug labour gaps and promote rehabilitation

According to the latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), job vacancies hit 1.1 million between July and September – the highest in 20 years. Despite government efforts to offer temporary visas for haulage, agriculture and meat production sectors, uptake amongst foreign workers has not been as popular as anticipated.

In recent weeks the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, has been promoting the employment of both prisoners and prison leavers as a solution to the current labour shortages and a way to support long-term rehabilitation of offenders:

“Giving an ex-offender a second chance can be win-win for them and their employer. Business owners have told me ex-offenders are among the most reliable and motivated workers in their team – they have a desire to prove themselves trustworthy and they have something to lose.”

Low-risk offenders are already helping to ease the shortage of HGV drivers, by carrying out haulier jobs on day release. Approximately 2,200 serving prisoners in England and Wales are currently carrying out paid work for more than 400 employers whilst they are on day release, according to the Ministry of Justice. The government have assured that all prisoners are subject to careful vetting and security checks.

Raab set out his aims for increasing the numbers of prisoners gaining skills whilst in prison and prison leavers gaining employment within six months of release, at an offender employment summit in October. Research released ahead of the summit reported that over 90% of businesses already employing ex-offenders said that they are “reliable, good at their job, punctual and trustworthy.”

Raab wants prison governors to make sure that prison leavers are equipped with CVs detailing their skills, ID to prove their right to work and a bank account so that they can get paid.

You can read the Justice Secretary’s full speech here.

Government Legislation

This drive for recruitment of prisoners and prison leavers comes at the same time as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 is making its way through parliament. The bill is directing a variety of new measures including amendments to rehabilitation periods in England and Wales under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA). The proposals include:

  • Introducing a rehabilitation period for some sentences of over 4 years, meaning that for non-sensitive jobs or activities they do not have to be disclosed to employers.

  • Reducing the time that community orders and sentences under 4 years have to be revealed to most employers. These reductions in disclosure periods will also improve access to employment.

These changes will only affect basic criminal record checks; standard and enhanced checks both show spent and unspent convictions regardless.

According to the Home Office, the changes are being proposed to “improve employment opportunities by reducing rehabilitation periods for offenders, helping them to move on with their lives.” The bill is currently in the Committee Stage at the House of Lords and must go through a further two stages before final considerations and Royal Assent.

The Lifecycle Project

On the 11th of October, the Ministry of Justice released the plans to run a project within HMP Hewell and HMP Aylesbury which will train prisoners in bicycle maintenance and repair (City & Guilds Level 1 and 2) before distributing the restored bicycles amongst hospital staff within the NHS and children from disadvantaged backgrounds across England.

The “Lifecycle Project” has been designed to create a “circular economy” of upskilling and providing opportunity for ex-offenders and also improving sustainable transport that promotes the health and wellbeing of all key workers. Towards the end of October, the first donated bikes will make their way to each prison, with the first delivery of repaired bikes scheduled to be made to NHS keyworkers from the end of November. Members of the public can donate bikes at the following Lifecycle Project Hubs: Peterborough Hospital, West Middlesex Hospital and John Radcliffe Hospital, before being sent to HMP Hewell and HMP Aylesbury.

The New Futures Network (NFN) (part of HMP Probation Service) broker partnerships between prisons and employers in England and Wales. Businesses can register their interest to work with NFN on their website: New Futures Network.

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