Marie-Claire O'Brien, Founder, New Leaf Initiative CIC

Offender Learning and Apprenticeships

We support prisoners into employment, but holistically. Helping the whole person to deal with their complex issues but progress through to employment.

There are 80,000 people in prison at the moment. Most of them have jobs of some sort, whether that be cleaning the wings, or cooking for the other prisoners, or doing the laundry, facilities maintenance, all that kind of stuff. Actually, the prison system couldn't operate without these workers.

Because they're prisoners, there's a lot of legislative issues in calling them employees.

One of the things that we've been concerned with, and that I've been working with Mark Dawe, chief executive, AELP, is around creating an apprenticeship pathway for prisoners, so that they can benefit, obviously, and move closer to the labour market, but also so that the prison education system can potentially tap into the Levy funding. Also, so that employers can benefit from having a real good labour source, an untapped talent pool, if you like.

Reducing reoffending

Most people in prison, I think it's proven to be 97 percent, want to stop offending.

60 percent [of prisoners] believe that having a job is the single most important factor in reducing that reoffending.

So, it makes sense to focus on employment as a route away from crime and into work.

I think with Brexit, and the complications that we're expecting there in relation to labour force, it makes sense to redirect our efforts and our intentions into this untapped talent pool.

Changing the Rules to Get Prisoners into Apprenticeships

The MoJ have done a fair few bits of research into, you know, "Can we explore this in relation to getting prisoners into Apprenticeships?"

One of the main stumbling blocks has been you cannot class a prisoner as an employee, because it opens up a whole Pandora's box around employee's rights. We understand that that's just going to be a no-go area.

One of the things that we're now exploring is getting the apprenticeship rules to change.

So, rather than just having these employees that are on minimum wage, can we not include the 80,000 prisoners that are working, both in custody and on RoTL, which is release on temporary license, so that we can do more things that I've just mentioned previously.

Prison Industries

As well as prisoners support in the actual prison system through work, such as the cheffing, the cleaning, so on, external companies can also come in and utilise prisoners, and the industry's workshops.


So, you have people like Timpson’s, who train prisoners to come out on release and be key cutters.

Or in female prisons they have the Max Speilmann, which is great.

They're great academies and they're about all about upskilling, and preparing people for release, and giving them opportunities on release.

We've actually got our own prison industry project set up in Hull, where prisoners type pallets and split it into the wood, so it's environmentally friendly, they're taking industrial waste.

Then they turn these bits of scrap wood, and fence posts, into amazing items such as oak tables, tables and chairs, parquet tables and really ornate bits and bobs, artwork. Really special stuff.

That's again one of the things that we would like to support with apprenticeships, getting all those skills for when they come out.

For instance, in construction, one of the biggest skill shortages is around woodwork, so it makes sense to upscale guys and girls so that when they come out, they can fill the skill shortages.

Marie-Claire O'Brien, Founder, New Leaf Initiative CIC

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