From education to employment

50k prison-leavers to plug labour shortages – new report urges

Employee engagement

Britain would save billions of pounds of taxpayer money and plug many of its more than one million job vacancies if it revitalised its efforts to get prisoners into work when they leave jail, according to a major new report.

    Nearly 50,000 inmates come to the end of their sentences every year. Yet six months after regaining their freedom, fewer than a quarter have a job.

    The vast majority wind up unemployed and at serious risk of reoffending at grave cost to themselves and the wider community.

    Research shows that having a job cuts the reoffending rate by between a third and a half.

    With the cost of reoffending officially calculated to be a staggering £18 billion a year, improving employment outcomes for this group would not only cut the number of victims of crime but generate huge savings for the taxpayer. 

    While recent efforts by the Government have helped to increase the number of prison leavers moving into work, a new report being considered by the Ministry of Justice is calling on ministers to go much “further and faster” given the acute labour shortages holding back the economy.

    The call for ministers and prison authorities to redouble their efforts to get prison-leavers into work comes from the Centre for Social Justice in a new report, Unlocking Aspiration.
    It argues that with job vacancies at a near all-time high and with employers severely short of staff there has never been a better time to step up the drive to rehabilitate offenders.

    Original polling of 2,000 UK adults by Opinium and published in the report found that over four in five (85 per cent) agreed that people in prison should be given the opportunity to get a job once they are released. Three quarters (76 per cent) said they would be comfortable working with someone who had committed an offence, provided they had passed relevant safeguarding checks.

    Meanwhile, the most recent data shows that only 16 per cent of prison leavers are in work after six weeks of stepping outside the prison gates, with just 23 per cent finding work six months after release.

    Both the recent Budget and the Labour leadership are making “back to work” a central theme of their economic policies. But the contribution ex-prisoners could make to boosting the labour force is not getting the priority it deserves.

    The CSJ report appeals for greater urgency in tackling the problem and proposes a string of practical measures designed to ensure that prisoners can move smoothly from jail into work once they have served their time.

    The report declares:

    “Despite the strength of feeling across all main parties that we need to do more to increase the vitality of the UK labour market, one group remains curiously absent from the discussion.

    “That is the 85,000 men and women currently serving time in our prison estate, of whom around 47,000 re-enter the community every year. This report is focused on realising the potential of this often written off group of people.

    “First and foremost a custodial sentence and the deprivation of liberty should serve as a punishment for, and deterrent to, committing crime. But prison time must also be used as an opportunity to ensure that the cycle of offending is broken, and that more would-be victims are protected from the immense harm of crime.

    “There is a compelling body of domestic and international evidence showing that work is a route out of crime as well as a route out of poverty.

    “A major Government study found that being in work has a statistically significant effect on reducing reoffending rates, replicated in more recent longitudinal research undertaken across the EU and US. Earlier analysis suggests a job cuts the risk of reoffending by between a third and a half.

    “With the cost of reoffending alone estimated by the Ministry of Justice to reach some £18bn every year, the net result of rehabilitation is not only huge savings for the taxpayer, but safer communities for everyone to enjoy.”

    The CSJ lists a string of steps that could be taken to boost the number of ex-prisoners moving straight into a job. They include:

    • Preparing for employment in prison (better education in prison, greater availability of digital technology, greater control of prisoners and the elimination of drug misuse in jail)
    • Enabling a successful transition into work (bigger use of charities to help prison-leavers get and hold down a job, temporary release for work placements and apprenticeships)
    • Sustaining meaningful work in the community (better post-release support for prison-leavers including more help for them to find a place to live)

    Prisons and Probation Minister, the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, said:

    “We are determined to get even more ex-prisoners into work through our innovative employment schemes which are helping to cut crime, boost the economy and make our streets safer.

    “We’re getting more offenders into jobs than ever before – keeping them on the straight and narrow and saving the taxpayer money. But we know we need to go further.

    “I’d like to thank the Centre for Social Justice for their forward thinking in this area and welcome this report that shines a light on the importance of, and opportunities in, getting more prison leavers into work.”

    Former prisoner and now Regional Manager at the CSJ, Mark Libby, said:

    “My journey exposed me to a world I never imagined to experience. A world of not just supressed liberties, but of supressed prospects and suffocated aspiration.

    “Time is a rare commodity, but one abundant behind bars. This should be a golden chance for intervention, for laying the foundations on which lives can be rebuilt, and for breaking not just the cycle of crime, but the trap of poverty, and for moving people away from state dependency.”

    CSJ Policy Director, Joe Shalam, said:

    “The challenge to unlock both aspiration and opportunities for prisoners should not be underestimated. Yet the demand – to protect more victims from the cycle of reoffending, improve the health of our labour market, and transform the prospects of prison-leavers – could not be more obvious.

    “Taken together, we believe our recommendations represent a major step forward. Because while the need to restore control and order in our prisons remains an urgent priority, the power of these measures is that they are focused on restoring something altogether more profound. Hope.”

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    1. This is all well and good, but ultimately it comes down to the employer. And unfortunately, despite promises of diversity, inclusion, and willingness to hire disadvantaged people, those with criminal convictions aren’t included.

      There are no protections against discrimination for those with criminal records, even in jobs where having a conviction wouldn’t be relevant for the work.