From education to employment

New minister has the key to unlock benefits of prison education

Sally Alexander, Principal, Milton Keynes College

Rarely do new ministerial appointments cause such excitement outside Westminster, as this week’s announcement that James Timpson is to take over as Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation at the Ministry of Justice.

Before accepting ministerial office, Mr (soon to be Lord) Timpson was chair of the Prison Reform Trust.  His key cutting, shoe mending, high street chain employs former offenders who make up more than 10% of the company’s total workforce.  His appointment has been welcomed by people from across the political spectrum, and he is sufficiently non-partisan to have previously worked with Conservative ministers on prison reform.

We at Milton Keynes College Group have also worked with him over a number of years, and he has a passion for, and an understanding of, the redemptive power of employment.  Having someone who is by definition, expert in the field of prisons will be a great boost for those working inside the system as well.

Prison education as a policy has extraordinarily wide-ranging benefits.

Take someone out of prison and give them a decent job and they are far less likely to reoffend.  Immediately, there’s a £50,000 pound a year saving – the cost of keeping someone in jail for a year.  Their family benefits, and with an income comes also the likelihood of reduced reliance on welfare payments, so another saving is made there.  Reducing prison numbers by cutting reoffending rates, eases pressure on the system, and of course cuts crime, with all its obvious advantages.  The reformed, now working ex-offender, also becomes a productive member of society, buying goods and services and paying taxes and thus, promoting growth.

These are the economic benefits.  The social ones are harder to put a value on but are perhaps, every bit as significant.  Previously broken families are reunited.  Former prisoners have the chance to rebuild their self-esteem.  I remember one such man saying that being in employment meant that for the first time, he was able to take his family on holiday, and that the sense of giving them something as a result of working hard was a feeling he would never forget.

There are many politicians who learn on the job when given ministerial responsibility, and many of them become genuinely expert at their briefs.  How exciting it is then, to have such an appointment made from outside the Westminster ranks, where the individual concerned can hit the ground running.  What’s more, James Timpson enters an arena where he already commands much respect for living up to his words with actions.

We can’t wait to get started working with him.

By Sally Alexander. CEO and Principal, Milton Keynes College Group.

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