There should be a “step change” in the availability of release on temporary licence (ROTL) out of prisons to give more businesses the opportunity to employ prisoners in the community as part of preparation for their release, according to a new report published today (2 June) by the Prison Reform Trust.
The report, which details the findings of a two-year action learning project “Out for Good” based in HMP Brixton in south London, says there is “huge potential” to get more prisoners into jobs and training. It found a substantial number of employers both open to employing ex-offenders and willing to work with prisons to achieve this.
Against expectations, the report found it was not the attitudes of employers but national prison policy and practice which was the main barrier preventing opportunities for work and training from being seized. Problems identified include poor coordination between different agencies; a lack of data on employment outcomes for prisoners; poorly defined targets for getting prisoners into sustainable employment; the impact of overcrowding on effective preparation for release; and a lack of opportunities for prisoners to work or volunteer in the community on ROTL. Many of these policies and practices are set at a national level and so are beyond the power of individual establishments to solve.
Currently, just one in four people have a job to go to on release from prison. This means around 56,000 people are released from prison each year without a job to go to. Research shows the benefits of work for both prisoners and employers. 39% of people with a job to go on release reoffend compared to 59% of people who are unemployed. A survey of employers by the Chartered Institute for Professional Development found that former offenders were more loyal than other employees. With sectors including construction, transport, hospitality and catering facing long-term recruitment challenges, released prisoners represent a largely untapped resource who have significant skills and experience to bring to the workplace.
Commenting, Claire Coombs, Development and Community Engagement Manager at Keltbray Group, a UK leading specialist business working in engineering and construction, said:
“Ex-offenders already make a valuable contribution to our workforce and there is potential for even more to do so. We are keen to work with prisons to ensure a smooth transition for prisoners into employment.”
A lack of access to opportunities for temporary release was identified as a major barrier to getting more prisoners into work on release. The use of ROTL has fallen markedly in recent years, following changes to the policy introduced by the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Between Oct-Dec 2013 and Oct-Dec 2016, incidences of ROTL out of prisons in England and Wales fell by one third. Since Jan-March 2016, incidences of temporary release have increased slightly and in the period Oct-Dec 2016 stood at 88,602 releases. ROTL has a remarkable success rate with only 73 out of every 100,000 releases resulting in failure.
The report found that changes to the availability of ROTL out of HMP Brixton have had a significant impact on the ability of employers to provide work and training opportunities. Alandale Plant and Scaffolding Ltd is an employer who has sponsored the Bounce Back scaffolding training centre in HMP Brixton, and also employs people when they have completed their training. When, in December 2016, a decision was taken to end the temporary release of prisoners out of the establishment, it meant the course had to be revised as people could not do the final qualification until they were released.
Commenting, Matthew Warner, Managing Director of Alandale Plant and Scaffolding Ltd, said:
“Prisoners on temporary release were able to get qualifications early, gain additional experience while still in prison and then come out to be employed by us on release. They made a valuable contribution to the success of our business. The decision to stop ROTL placements out of HMP Brixton limits what was a seamless process from prison into work. We find it hard to understand why something that was working so well would be stopped. Especially as it inhibits the ability for employers like us to provide opportunities for people prior to release and give them the skills they need to lead a law-abiding life.”
The “Out for Good” project was set up in memory of the late Treasurer of the Prison Reform Trust, Andrew Fleming Williams, and funded through the efforts of his family and friends. The project would not have been possible without the willing engagement of HMP Brixton and the agencies working with it. The project, led by Katie Pedder who also wrote the report, was able to make some progress through the resources it brought to co-ordination and communication, both within the prison and between the prison and employers. Over 60 prisoners found jobs through job fairs organised through the project.
Drawing on the learning from the project, the report recommends a step change in the use of release on temporary licence (ROTL); a radical simplification of the commissioning and provision of employment and rehabilitation services; increased resources and support for governors to co-ordinate provision and build relationships with local employers; improved targets for sustainable employment for prisoners applying equally to prisons and community rehabilitation companies; improved national systems for data collection; and a concerted effort to reduce prison overcrowding.
Commenting, director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson said:
“Getting more people in prison in to work is a win-win for employers, prisoners and the local community. Thanks to two years of close engagement with prisoners, staff and employers at HMP Brixton, this report reveals both the immense potential for getting more prisoners into work and the barriers that exist to achieving change. It outlines practical steps which can be taken to help people in prison lead a law-abiding and productive life on release.”
Commenting, advisory group member of Out for Good, Fiona Fleming Williams said:
“Andrew was a passionate believer in helping people in prison to take responsibility for themselves and their own resettlement. This report is a testament to that belief and his faith in the potential for prisoners to turn their own lives around, if given the opportunity to do so.”