In December, the UK Government released a Prisons Strategy White Paper, outlining their vision to develop a modernised prison estate and to cut crime rates through more effective offender rehabilitation
The cost of current levels of reoffending has been estimated at £18.1 billion per year (Ministry of Justice, 2019). To tackle this, we need to reform our approach to rehabilitation in prisons; something Catch22, along with many others, has advocated for years. Improving employment support is an essential part of reforming our prison system, and it’s encouraging to see such a focus on this in the White Paper.
The investment in meaningful education within the prison setting – with an emphasis on helping offenders into employment – is fundamental to achieving a reduction in reoffending rates and should be transformative in supporting the individual to succeed in many aspects of life on release.
From our experience, the current delivery of prison education can feel stagnant, causing a lower prisoner uptake. There needs to be a greater focus on aligning prison education with future employment aspirations of prisoners, in order to make the work more engaging and give it a greater degree of tangibility.
A prisoner’s education plan, and therefore employment plan, should be a key part of their sentencing, with it being tailored to their individual needs.
Improving prisoners’ employment prospects
To improve prisoners’ employment prospects and therefore break the reoffending cycle, there also needs to be a greater drive towards incentivising local employers to recruit from prisons. While more opportunities for corporate work experience are being offered to prisoners, we need to ensure that the companies commit to offering them jobs on release, with the right support for them to transition into this work.
Through conducting an internal review of the labour market need in resettlement areas of each prison, education provision and work experience can be tailored to reflect the local demands for employment. There also needs to be a narrative shift for businesses’ motives for employing ex-offenders. It needs to move away from businesses doing it for ‘good social value’ to an opportunity for them to tap into a valuable recruitment pool.
Improving the digital infrastructure
Improving the digital infrastructure in prisons must be a key feature of proposed reforms, and is well overdue given the digital age we are living in. According to the Centre for Social Justice, almost all our prisons are entirely offline, with only 18 of 117 prisons in England and Wales being equipped with in-cell cabling. Unsurprisingly, prisoners are among the most digitally excluded in society (2021).
The reduced employment prospects for prisoners along with their higher rate of digital illiteracy doesn’t place them well for finding work and resuming normal life in a world which is increasingly digital. As a result, the digital exclusion imposed on offenders from passing through an outdated prison system can contribute towards them reoffending.
Equipping prisons with more advanced IT equipment
Equipping prisons with more advanced IT equipment is the first step in resolving the digital divide. It is then crucial to break down the sometimes-adverse attitudes of staff and prisoners towards technology and encourage them to embrace the IT resources to their full potential, through sufficient training. Having digital access not only provides educational and employment-related opportunities for prisoners but can also offer emotional support and maintain better family relationships.
Code4000, which recently merged with Catch22, is an example of a successful rehabilitative programme which both bridges the digital gap and prepares prisoners for starting employment. It delivers computer programming training, or coding, in UK prisons in preparation for careers in the tech sector. 40% of those graduating from the programme have secured work immediately upon release, and none of the participants have gone on to reoffend, so far. Code4000 is just one example of how rehabilitation can be an effective means to reduce reoffending rates.
Thoroughly preparing prisoners for release, from equipping them with digital skills to offering them work experience while serving, is the key to a more effective prison estate. It not only protects the public but also provides ex-offenders with the right tools to lead a more positive life on release, which is crime-free.
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