New prisoner apprenticeship scheme

Prisoners are, for the first time, to be given access to apprenticeship schemes under the government’s new initiative to provide job-based training in key industries. It is hoped this will boost local employers, whilst minimising the likelihood of reoffending, to ultimately reduce crime and unemployment rates. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the necessary changes to legislation to allow prisoners to take up apprenticeships would be made later this year. Under the existing Prison Act (1952), prisoners could not hold an employment contract, so were excluded from such opportunities.

At the moment, prisoners are able to study, train and work while in jail, with an estimated 5,000 prisoners taking part in work in the community through release on temporary license. But, until now, they have not been able to access more structured, long-term apprenticeship programmes. Instead, only 11% of male prison leavers and 4% of female prisoner leavers were able to secure a job within six weeks of their release.

However, the government hopes to have hundreds of prisoners completing an apprenticeship by 2025, with thousands more undertaking pre-apprenticeship training, to prepare them for a full course or a higher skilled job upon release. The scheme will apply to prisoners at open prisons across England who are out on day release or nearing the end of their sentence. They will have the opportunity to apply for apprenticeships in vital sectors such as hospitality and construction. Initially, the plan is to offer the scheme to one hundred prisoners across England, before rolling it out across the wider prison estate.

A recent poll suggests that over 90% of businesses employing ex-offenders find them to be reliable, good at their job, punctual and trustworthy, and employers in industries such as construction, agriculture and transportation are already seeing the benefits of this. Giving jobs to ex-offenders can also have significant reputational advantages, as over 80% of the general public think businesses taking on ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society. This can help to build an employer’s brand, demonstrate its commitment to corporate social responsibility and make it stand out from competitors. 

It’s no secret that businesses across the UK have suffered with staff shortages in recent months due to the impacts of Covid, Brexit and “The Great Resignation.” As such, moving past prejudiced opinions that ex-prisoners are not capable of fulfilling vacant roles can help businesses to support local communities whilst meeting their individual needs and demands. Similarly, employers should remember that they will be acting unlawfully if they refuse to employ someone, or dismiss them, because of a spent conviction. Job candidates are under no legal obligation to disclose previous convictions and employers shouldn’t ask about them.

This scheme ties into the government’s wider Prisons Strategy White Paper set out by Dominic Raab in December 2021. This includes a variety of projects to boost prison leavers into continual employment and focus on rehabilitation, some of which include: resettlement passports, to ensure prisoners are ready for work with an ID, CV and bank account; a new national Prisoner Education Service to oversee learning in jails; and league table which keep track of how many ex-prisoners have found work.

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