The working prison

By John Hayward 09 Dec 2010

It is sixteen years since Jubilee Centre published Relational Justice: A Reform Dynamic For Criminal Justice, during which time the prison population has increased from around 49,000 to 85,227 (as at December 3rd). In fact, England and Wales has the second highest prison population in Western Europe, at 155 per 100,000 population (see chart below). Just one of many suggestions we made in our report was the following:

'Providing work in prisons promotes attitudinal change on the part of prisoners and staff, helping to create more constructive prison regimes. Realistic levels of prisoners' pay could enable them to contribute to the cost of being imprisoned, pay National Insurance and tax and make a financial contribution towards their families' expenses. Some payment could also be made to victims and the remaining earnings could be saved for their release. ... In addition, charitable openings could be further encouraged such as the craft shop, Time, in York which sells articles made in prisons and the profits go to charity, another example of a form of reparation being made to the community.'

It is therefore encouraging to see the radically different approach to criminal justice and sentencing being proposed in the Government's Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders. Its emphasis is not just on punishing offenders and protecting the public but, crucially, also on reducing reoffending. Proposals include the working prison, in which:

  • prisoners will work a full working week of up to 40 hours;
  • the regime and core day will be focused around enabling work, within the requirements of ensuring a safe, decent and secure regime; and
  • education will be geared primarily to providing skills to perform work effectively and as far as possible giving prisoners skills which will increase their ability to get a job on release.

It cites examples where this is already being tried: at HMP Manchester, where 'nearly 60 prisoners are now working up to 40 hours per week in an industrial laundry and a printing workshop' and HMP Ranby, where 'a workshop that produces plastic goods operates using prisoners over three shifts, and runs for 20 hours per day'; and joint ventures: at HMP Kirkham with Calpac UK, where 'some 40 prisoners work a 37.5 hour week packing food', and HMP Ford with Travis Perkins, which 'runs a 30 prisoner workshop, refurbishing equipment'.

One should, however, raise a concern over the impact of such employment and training schemes on prisoners' job prospects, as the evidence is rather mixed. The 2001 Resettlement Survey found that even when prisoners had attended job clubs, education classes, prison workshops or vocational training whilst in custody, less than a third had a job arranged for them when they were released. Further, it appears that 'help is rarely targeted at those at higher risk of offending' and that any new skills acquired in prison are 'generally not found by respondents to be transferable to the outside workplace.' Thus, 'tailoring employment interventions to the local job market and involving local employers are important, as is ensuring that post-release appointments are in place before prisoners are released.'†

That said, if such measures prove able to 'restore trust, deliver more effective punishment, improve public safety and start to break the cycle of offending,' they will rightly have been described as a 'rehabilitation revolution'.

Prison population data taken from International Centre for Prison Studies: World Prison Brief

† Harper, G. & Chitty, C. (2005) The impact of corrections on re-offending: a review of 'what works, Home Office Research Study 291

See also: Prison Reform - At Last!

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