Will Bordell
by Will Bordell

This piece was originally published on The Justice Gap.

Prisoners will be encouraged to work outside prison gates under new rules that increase governors’ ability to grant release on temporary licence. The aim is to give prisoners more chances to work with employers during their sentence, boosting their employment prospects after release.

The changes, announced yesterday by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), mean that governors of open prisons and women’s prisons can consider release on temporary licence at an earlier stage of a prisoner’s sentence than before. Once a prisoner has successfully completed a risk assessment, governors will be allowed to let them leave the prison on temporary licence to take on paid work.

The new strategy is based on the rehabilitative potential of post-release employment. The MoJ estimates that ex-offenders are around nine percentage points less likely to reoffend if they are employed. Re-offending costs society somewhere in the region of £15 billion per year.

Following a review conducted in 2013 by then justice secretary Chris Grayling, the number of prisoners on temporary release plummeted by almost one-third over a five-year period. Currently, most prisoners released on temporary licence are in the last 12 months of their sentence. They are usually released for the day, although a small minority is released overnight.

Over 530 businesses are now registered with the MoJ to work with prisons and prisoners. Many report positive results. According to the MoJ, one in eight employers maintain that employing ex-offenders has helped their business. Two-thirds would recommend that other businesses follow their example.

Businesses that have recently registered include food chain Pret A Manger and hospitality company Greene King. Greene King hopes to employ 50 offenders from the North West and London by the end of the year.

Greg Sage, the company’s communications director, explained that the scheme will help them to ‘secure a pipeline of talent coming into our business, at the same time as helping people start again as they leave prison.’ He added that employing offenders and ex-offenders could help the business address problems associated with the ‘nationwide shortage of kitchen staff’.

James Timpson, chief executive of the Timpson Group, also welcomed the move. David Gauke, the justice secretary, commented on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The evidence and common sense suggests that prisoners who go into work after they leave prison are less likely to re-offend. If we just dump them out of prison having not done anything to get them ready for work then I’m afraid the risk of re-offending is that much greater.’