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Prisoners to be offered apprenticeships for the first time

Groups that work with offenders have welcomed the government scheme but said it shouldn't just be used to plug holes in the labour market.

Prisoners will be offered apprenticeships in hospitality and construction as part of a new government scheme. Image: Kat Ter Haar

Prisoners are to be offered apprenticeships for the first time in a groundbreaking scheme aiming to cut reoffending rates and help solve labour shortages.

The government says the project, which will focus on hospitality and construction, will give prisoners the skills and training they need to find work on release.

Evidence shows people who find work after serving a sentence are significantly less likely to reoffend, and groups that work with ex-offenders have welcomed the scheme. But they say it shouldn’t just be used to plug holes in the labour market.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab had signalled his intentions to get more offenders into work last year. Announcing the scheme, he said: “Getting offenders into work offers them a second chance to lead a more positive life and stay on the straight and narrow.

“Breaking the cycle of crime is critical to our mission to drive down reoffending, cut crime and protect the public.”

Apprenticeships will initially be offered up to 100 people in open prisons across England before being rolled out to hundreds more by 2025. Pre-apprenticeships will also be offered as the programme expands.

The Ministry of Justice said polling published last year found nine out of 10 businesses that hire ex-offenders say they are reliable, good at their job, punctual and trustworthy.

Working Chance, an employment charity supporting women with convictions, said it was delighted to see apprenticeships rolled out to people in prison, but questioned why hospitality and construction had been prioritised and urged the government to work with women and offer opportunities in careers they want to work in.

Head of engagement Lizzy Jewell said: “We are curious about the scale of the project – a meagre 100 places across open prisons – and would be keen to learn more about which locations will be chosen, and whether any women’s prisons are likely to be included in the pilot. We’re also keen to learn why certain industries have been prioritised – hospitality and construction – and how these decisions were made.

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“We would hope that employment opportunities are created where they would benefit those in prison hoping to build a career, rather than to simply fill skills gaps that the government has identified, and can’t fill in other ways.”

The Learning and Work Institute said the project was “win-win for prisoners and employers” but echoed Working Chance in calling for it to be expanded beyond hospitality and construction.

Deputy director Sam Avanzo Windett said: “Apprenticeships offer a quality route into work and, up until now, prisoners have been unable to take these opportunities to improve their chances of sustainable employment.

“Organisations across the system, including employers and providers, have worked hard to push for this legal change within the complex set of arrangements. From here, this needs to build into strategic collaborations which aren’t limited to current high vacancy sectors, but open up to meet future skills and labour market needs.”

Prisoners are already able to study, train and work while in jail and 5,000 offenders currently carry out community work through release on temporary license to help with labour shortages.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We want everyone to have access to the high-quality training they need to progress and build a brighter future. 

“Apprenticeships will offer prisoners a lifechanging chance to gain the skills they need to secure a rewarding career, while providing more businesses with the skilled workforce they need to grow.”

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