Kenneth Clarke says offering training and jobs to prisoners and ex-offenders will cut reoffending rates
The government is to encourage major high street chains to employ ex-offenders in a bid to reduce reoffending rates.
Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke will address up to 40 retailers, including Marks & Spencer, DHL and Iceland, at a Downing Street reception later in May, telling them that they should recruit more people fresh from prison. He will also encourage them to set up training courses in prisons, similar to a scheme already being run by locksmith and engraving specialist Timpson.
Clarke said: “Getting somebody into a steady job upon release from prison is one of the most successful ways of getting them to stop reoffending. With support from organisations like Timpson, we can make a real difference to the lives of prisoners and their families and above all, a reduction in the victims of crime.”
Timpson has a policy of actively recruiting ex-offenders, but has also set up a full-time training facility at Liverpool and Wandsworth prisons.
By following the Timpson template, Clarke would be encouraging more retailers to employ serving prisoners as well as ex-offenders, but there could be problems if prisoners were paid less than the going rate for those jobs.
According to a 2011 report by the Howard League for Penal Reform, the average pay for prison service work undertaken by prisoners is £9.60 per week – well below the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour for workers aged 21 and over.
The report concludes: “Prisoners engaged in real work in prison should be receiving a fair wage for the work done.” But it also said 25% of prisoners’ gross salary should go to victims’ funds and the remainder of wages should be used to support dependants or saved for the prisoner’s release.
Dennis Phillips, academy and welfare manager at the Timpson Foundation, said prisoners employed through its commercial ventures, such as a dry-cleaning business at Blantyre House prison in Kent, receive the national minimum wage; but trainees only receive the normal prison wage. “It’s not about cheap labour and prisoners are paid the going rate. We have a retention rate of 75% and our first work experience person we took on in 2003 is now a senior manager.”
The Ministry of Justice’s initiative, if successful, would be particularly controversial at a time of high unemployment.
A spokesman for the GMB union said: “If the main object of government policy is to bring the prison population into the workforce instead of rehabilitation, we would be strongly against it.
“There are two million people on the dole looking for work and the idea of bypassing them and undermining the national minimum wage is frankly ludicrous and unacceptable.”