Prisons Strategy White Paper Response

PAG Staff2022, Article, Inequalities, Justice, Prison, Schools

Prisons Strategy White Paper Response

On December 7th 2021, The Ministry of Justice released the Prison Strategy White Paper, setting out their vision for the next 10 years in how to address the most critical areas for reducing reoffending, questions on the content and implementation of some of their proposals, and opened a consultation exercise to those with an interest and expertise in our prisons in England and Wales.

With this article, Premier Advisory Group (PAG) would like to provide a response to the consultation, and hope our views will be beneficial to those who may be considering responses as part of the government priorities.

Over the years, and as a social consultancy, we have worked with clients to support and provide education and care to the most vulnerable people, working alongside them to provide for those individuals and ensure we meet their various, and complex, needs. As part of this, we have delivered multiple commissioned professional reports for national entities, Local Authorities, and organisations operating in the social justice sector. This includes, for example, a review of the education provision within a youth secure centre.

Due to our expertise in education, care, and employment, we have given particular attention to the third Chapter of this White Paper - (Chapter Three – The Roles of Prisons and Probation in Cutting Crime and Protecting the Public), and more specifically question 6 below:

“Where can we go further to give prisoners the skills to secure stable employment on release? Specifically, we would like to hear from charities, employers and training providers working with prison leavers or who would like to support our mission of getting more prisoners into jobs. We would also be interested to hear about how schemes that delay the disclosure of convictions during job applications, such as ‘Ban the Box’, could be enhanced and embedded with employers.”

As stated in point 104 of the White Paper, education in Prisons is not delivered to the standards it should be in order to appropriately support inmates. 60% of prisons in England have received Ofsted grades of ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ over the last five years.

The manifesto to deliver a transformed Prisoner Education Service is long overdue.

After many generations having been poorly served, it is vital that this cycle of underperformance is broken. While the suggestion of improving numeracy and literacy, as well as qualifications, is critical, we should demand the same standards of education in prison as that which is delivered in our best performing schools. Prison education has not received the same degree of attention and scrutiny as education outside the gate and this appears to be particularly the case in youth settings. Leaders and staff involved in delivering prison education should be supported by professionals brought in from mainstream provision, alternative provision, and special education, and foster synergies between professionals with different backgrounds, knowledge, and expertise. If meaningful change is to occur, we must look at who is providing education and how this is being delivered.

While education in prison has been widely delivered by private providers, we firmly believe that there has to be a place for schools; specifically, professionals trained in Alternative Provision, or Special Schools, should be involved and contribute to adequately support prisoners according to their needs. Around 70% of prisoners have unmet needs or suffer from mental health issues, and 50% have LD or ASD. All too often, their needs are not fully understood by staff and/or are not met by appropriate methods of delivery. We believe that prisons should further involve the education sector, whether in actual education delivery, or seeking advice, guidance, and support. Prisons and inmates would benefit considerably from this expertise, the support networks that exist, and the governance and accountability structures schools operate under.

Considering this, point 109 of the White Paper is welcomed (“hiring new Education, Work and Skills Specialists to review and improve the prison education offer and expand learning beyond the classroom, into workshops and digital platforms, and Support Managers for prisoners with conditions such as learning disabilities, autism, acquired brain injury or ADHD”).

Premier Advisory currently works with a range of organisations who have significant experience in supporting pupils with complex social, emotional, and mental health needs (SEMH), alongside co-occurring behavioural and learning needs. The core of their work is to provide all individuals, regardless of prior attainment, learning needs, and socio-economic background, the opportunity to achieve academic and life-long success through transformational and inclusive practice. These organisations use transformative therapeutic approaches, and are driven by values of resilience, accountability, inclusion, and community. These values are fundamental in facilitating an educational experience that has the power to transform lives in the long term. Our experience tells us that many of these organisations would welcome engagement with prison governors, and would be keen to be part of supporting individuals’ education within prisons.


Getting education right will not, on its own, fix the problem of getting prisoners jobs on release; preparing prisoners for work and providing them with the right opportunities is also vital. In our opinion, The White Paper’s suggestions in point 132 are very much welcomed. PAG is particularly excited by the idea of Employment Hubs, which are described as analogous to a job centre in a prison. It’s key that prisoners are provided with suitable job opportunities, free from stigma and suiting their aspirations and potential. However, we still believe that to be successful in bringing prison leavers into stable and meaningful employment, there is another layer of support that the White Paper fails to recognise. Individuals who have been through the criminal justice system often suffer from trauma and are highly institutionalised, to a stage where they need significant additional support when they leave prison. Peer to peer support and mentors are extremely powerful, more so than a job offer on its own, in supporting prison leavers and helping them towards successful employment and resettlement.

Many times, what prison leavers need isn’t just a job offer or a list of support organisations they can reach out to. What they need is someone who will be there for them at any point of crisis, and who will provide them with a listening ear. It’s about accompanying them in all the little steps that will bring them toward rehabilitation (showing up to an appointment, being on time, paying bills, etc.), and helping them overcome the traumas and institutionalisation they were exposed to, while within the justice system.

Furthermore, there needs to be a better understanding and awareness around prisoners’ trauma and needs on release by employers. This is again something that can be bettered with the deployment of mentors and peer to peer support. Someone closely supporting a prison leaver within their first weeks of work could also ensure that the employer is aware and understands what challenges the individual is facing. This can range from family issues, accommodation issues, or even simply not being accustomed to having to set their own alarm in the morning or planning what to eat for lunch. The level of institutionalisation within the gate is not comprehended or taken into enough consideration, leading to miscomprehension, misinterpretation, and further difficulties for prison leavers to reach life stability on release.

This leads us to another conclusion, that there is a critical need for collaboration and service integration. We firmly believe that there is a great amount of effort being put into supporting prisoners from many fronts, whether this is regarding employment or not. NFN and DWP are doing excellent work which should not be diminished. However, it’s the lack of continuity of support that we believe is problematic. While prisoners are being brought job offers within the gate, this won’t be followed up on release by the same individuals, or even organisations. There’s a break in the support, and this is where we believe differing strands need to be tied together. To reiterate, our view is that mentorship, starting from within the gate, and continuing post-release, would bring remarkable change and benefit in the aim of bringing prison leavers away from reoffending, and towards successful rehabilitation.