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.
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.