HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc15-7
11. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

What steps he is taking to increase the opportunities for prisoners to find employment after release. [134168]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins)

The Prison Service is investing £14.5 million a year in its custody to work initiative. A growing partnership with Jobcentre Plus has led to a number of initiatives, including the extension of employment and benefits surgeries across the prison estate.

Lawrie Quinn

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that often it is the probation service that is at the front end in terms of rehabilitating former offenders and getting them back into proper employment, and that the problem that they often face is that the key skills, the literacy and numeracy skills, that they need to undertake a profitable existence in society are lacking? Has the Home Office any plans to talk to learning and skills councils to try to generate local partnerships with organisations such as the probation service in Scarborough and Whitby, which is doing very well and could do even better with a stronger partnership in that respect?

Paul Goggins

I can confirm that the probation service is seeking to develop partnerships of that kind, as is the Prison Service. Last year, 40,000 literacy and numeracy qualifications were gained in prison. Indeed, last year, one in 10 of every basic skills qualification gained anywhere in the country was gained in a prison. Better qualified people coming out of prison stand a better chance of getting a job and staying out of trouble.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

As the Minister well knows, I have the second largest female prison in my constituency and, despite the best efforts of local people, too little is done to help those female prisoners on their release into the community, often in the Manchester area. Does he agree that we need to do much more to help female prisoners, whose lives are often a complete mess before they go to prison? What initiatives has he considered undertaking as the new Prisons Minister?

Paul Goggins

Women leaving Styal prison and indeed prisoners leaving any prison need a great deal of support, sometimes appropriate drug treatment or mentoring support, for example, but in particular they need help with education and training in order to get their lives back in order and to enhance their opportunities for gaining employment and a wage that will take them increasingly away from crime.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Education is key to rehabilitating prisoners on their release. The last annual report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons stated that the amount spent per capita on young people in the secure estate was £1,800. That compares with an equivalent figure for secondary schools of £3,200. Even allowing for a different way of calculating those figures, the discrepancy is immense: per capita, only about 60 per cent. of what is spent in secondary schools is spent in the secure estate. Will my hon. Friend look into that discrepancy and address the problem?

Paul Goggins

It is unfair to make that direct comparison. I think that my hon. Friend admitted as much, but it is important that we continue to increase the amount of education and training that is available for juveniles in custody, and we continue to do that.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Minister said that good education and training programmes could be delivered in prison. Does he agree that it becomes impossible to deliver such programmes in an overcrowded environment? As the prison population at 74,000 is 8,000 over the certified normal accommodation, and as the Government's own projections are that, by 2006, on a conservative estimate, it will rise to 88,000, with only 1,720 places currently projected in the pipeline, how on earth are we going to prevent a serious crisis that will make training and education impossible?

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)


Paul Goggins

I will answer the question, which is that at the moment we are expanding the prison estate by adding 2,800 places in existing prisons, building two new prisons and making use of home detention curfew. About 3,600 people are currently on home detention curfew who otherwise would be in prison, so we are constantly looking at the size of the prison population and we are taking all the necessary measures to deal with those pressures.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does my hon. Friend agree that community sentencing can play a key role in helping to rehabilitate people because they can develop new skills while helping their community, and that it is a win-win situation for the community both because it gets something back from prisoners and because it can see those people putting something back into the community to make up for their original crime?

Paul Goggins

I agree absolutely. I have made it clear on many occasions that one of the tasks that we face is rebalancing correctional services, so that we make much greater use of community penalties. They can, with the right people, have a great impact. We should be using tagging as much as possible, for example, in association with other forms of intervention such as drug treatment, better education and so forth, to deal with all the people who have gone to prison for very short periods far more effectively in the community.