Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2004-05, dated 6 January 2005


'Prison Work' Regime Must Change; Vulnerable Prisoners Need More Support

A radical transformation of the prison regime to ensure prisoners do 'real' work on a conventional 9 to 5 basis and have greater access to day release for work and education is being recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee in a new report on the Rehabilitation of Prisoners.

The key recommendations are contained in a wide-ranging cross-party report; the result of a year long inquiry involving extensive prison visits and an innovative 'Prison Diary Project', which provides a snapshot of prisoners' experience of rehabilitation.

On prison work, the report states there must be a much stronger drive to get ex-offenders into work in a bid to reduce re-offending and prison over-crowding.

It calls for a structured approach to training and prison work based on industry standards, developed with the help of private firms and local communities.

Commenting, Committee Chairman the Rt Hon John Denham MP said:

"Currently, nearly three in five prisoners are reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. Prison overcrowding makes it difficult to reduce re-offending through rehabilitation, but not impossible. Overcrowding is certainly not an excuse for poor management.

 "There needs to be a far greater emphasis within prisons on 'real life' work if we are to stem re-offending.

"During our inquiry we have seen excellent examples of schemes that are helping to reduce re-offending by offering prisoners training, education and crucially, constructive prison work.

"For many prisoners experience of a normal working day will be a new experience. However, our inquiry has shown that this is vital if we are to try and prepare offenders for life after prison. Ex-prisoners with stable jobs and lifestyles are far less likely to re-offend.

"Prison workshops should provide prisoners with experience of the real working day by encouraging them to obtain recognised qualifications and marketable skills though on the job training in partnership with firms in the local area. Basic labour shortages and skills gaps in the external labour market should be identified and matched to vocational training and work programmes in prisons.

"We are also recommending increased use of day release schemes to allow prisoners to work with local firms in the community and to help them sustain links with their families, both of which play important roles in rehabilitation.

"Education, training, work and day release are not soft options. This is about recognising what works, about fostering a work ethic and giving prisoners responsibility for their own future after they are released."

The report says the basic policy framework for rehabilitating offenders is now largely in place because of reforms to sentencing, the development of alternatives to prison and the establishment of the National Offender Management System. However, the report questions the low importance attached by the Government to work in prisons and criticises current approaches for dealing with drug-related problems as well as particularly vulnerable groups, including women and the mentally ill.

It adds that despite a welcome decrease in re-offending rates, the scale of the overcrowding problem is massive and the Government's optimistic assessment that by 2009 the prison population will neatly match prison capacity rests on some questionable assumptions.

Overcrowding is also leading to a constant churn of prisoners through the system and high levels of transfers between prisons which are hampering rehabilitation programmes. MPs say more needs to be done to minimise these transfers.

The report also makes a number of other important conclusions and recommendations including the following:

Mental Health Care:

• The current system of prison mental health care provision is failing in two fundamental respects: some individuals suffering mental illness and committing crimes are being convicted and sent to prison because of the failures of mental health care provision in the community. Secondly, prisoners who become severely mentally ill are not being diverted out of the prison system to appropriate specialist secure units in the community.

• The Committee deplores the delays in assessing the mental health care needs of prisoners on admission to prison and throughout their sentences.

Drug Treatment:

• The Committee recommends that all prisoners should be subject to mandatory drug testing on admission to prison given evidence of high levels of misuse by very many of those entering the prison system and in light of the need to take account of drug abuse when developing rehabilitative schemes for individual prisoners.

• The Committee is also critical of the limited number of places on prison drug treatment programmes for those with serious drug or alcohol problems and is calling on the Government to look at how to ensure a seamless transition in drug treatment provision for released prisoners, which is critical to avoid wasted investment.

  Short Term Prisoners:

• The Committee believes a radical re-think about the treatment of short-term prisoners is urgently required. Current Prison Service thinking is dominated by the view that nothing constructive can be done for this group. However, the report states that inaction towards and neglect of this majority group of prisoners can no longer be tolerated.

Women Prisoners:

• The Committee notes that the huge rise in the female population is largely due to a significant increase in the severity of sentencing and says that the vast majority of these women are in prison for non-violent offences and have never been a danger to the public.

 Young Prisoners:

• The report says that levels of constructive activity and intervention programmes for the young adult prison population are woefully inadequate.

  Prisoners from Minority Ethnic and Religious Groups:

• The Committee is deeply concerned at the over-representation of minority ethnic groups, particularly black men, across the criminal justice system.