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News - 2 July 2011

Pilot scheme launched to help prisoners learn on the job

A prison industry pilot that aims to cut re-offending by providing work opportunities for offenders has been launched in Merseyside.

The project will test whether local manufacturers can transfer their production processes in to prisons and help inmates develop work histories and gain accredited training before release.

 

The social enterprise behind the project, Fusion21, is also in talks with the National Apprenticeship Service to see whether offenders could begin apprenticeships in prison. This would allow inmates to start their training three months before release, helping them to maintain the routine and sense of purpose they develop in prison on the outside.

 

The latest government reports on prisoner rehabilitation indicate that employment pathways are crucial to cutting re-offending rates. In the Breaking the Cycle green paper, 68 per cent of prisoners reported that having a job would be important in helping them stop re-offending.

 

But nearly half of offenders had no job in the year before going into custody and a large proportion leave prison with little or no qualifications and minimal employment experience.

 

Although the Ministry of Justice has identified employment routes as central to helping ex-offenders back into mainstream society, there is some uncertainty about how to provide enough work opportunities for the UK’s large prison population.

 

Dave Neilson, chief executive at Fusion21 explains. Almost 85,000 people are serving sentences in UK jails and only 9,000 places are currently provided in prison industries. In the drive to expand the volume of work opportunities, we must be wary of creating an alternative economy for offenders. They will sniff out work that isn’t real – we need to demonstrate that opportunities will lead to mainstream careers. Rather than receiving concessions, offenders must get constructive employment support that makes them competitive on release.”

 

Manufacturing is one industry suited for transfer into prison. A large proportion of prisoners have a low skills base so certain areas of manufacturing – those trades that are straightforward to learn and non-technical – would be ideal. Manufacturing skills are also seen as transferable and relevant to a wide range of roles – increasing employment opportunities for offenders when they get out.

 

Fusion21 is now working with HMP Liverpool and a number of local manufacturers looking to expand their production processes and cut their overheads. Steve Agger, former Service Director for Crime and Disorder at Knowsley Council is developing the prison industry pilot with Fusion21. He outlines their approach to partnering with local companies. “Rather than taking jobs away from people on the outside, we’re looking for businesses that want to grow their capacity. They can do this by transferring part of their production processes into a prison and at the same time reduce their overheads and meet corporate social responsibility objectives.”

 

“This makes good business sense for local companies and could also help to plug skills shortages. If there is demand for skilled workers in a particular area – such as the production of energy efficiency goods - then it makes sense to train prisoners up in that area to they can make a valuable contribution to their local economy on release. We want to create an industry transfer model that meets the demand of local labour markets.”

 

Fusion21 is now extending the pilot to look at community payback schemes. They are in talks with probation trusts to explore how community service programmes can move beyond litter-picking and train offenders, boosting their employment prospects and contributing to local economies.


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