Howard League blog · 18 Oct 2016
Helping prisoners into work after Brexit
We all know that getting a job on release from prison is one of the best ways of staying away from crime. But prisons do not equip you to get work-ready. In fact, they do the opposite.
I have tramped round prisons for 30 years and seen lots of excellent training in bricklaying, industrial cleaning, light assembly and even engineering. The training involves two or three hours a day building a little wall, brick by brick, inside a classroom. The same goes for industrial cleaning, which teaches the techniques and how to deal with equipment and fluids.
What triggered me to write this blog is hearing that a London prison is hoping to train male (obviously men, women don’t get the opportunity to learn these skills) prisoners so they can get jobs working on the Battersea power station redevelopment site.
The problem is that prison training does not resemble real life. Small groups of prisoners inside a warm classroom potter about for a few hours a day. When men are released from prison if they do manage to get a job on a building site, they don’t last because they are simply not work-ready. They cannot keep up with the exigencies of a real building site, which is really hard work.
Prisons are slow to recognise changes in the labour market, getting stuck in training men for what was needed decades ago.
In prison they have not got themselves up in the morning, they don’t get themselves breakfast, they don’t have a shower and they don’t do a full day of hard work. Prison life is nothing like outside, it induces dependence and apathy and indolence.
There are going to be more opportunities to get former prisoners into work if the government decides to cut off the flow of workers from Eastern Europe. There will be jobs in construction and agriculture, but people have to be prepared to work long hours doing physically demanding work. They will have to be on time in the morning and do a hard day’s work, day after day.
Prisons are slow to recognise changes in the labour market, getting stuck in training men for what was needed decades ago. Whilst there are opportunities in construction, agriculture will be where there will be an urgent need for home-grown labour after Brexit. This will require a change of mindset on the part of prisons, which hold mostly young men from cities.
I hope that men who have served their time in prison can be helped to get jobs. Prisons must change their regimes and let men take some responsibility for their lives, so they get themselves up in the morning, get a shower and make their breakfast, so they are ready for a full day of work.
Prisons have a public duty to help people live law-abiding lives. At the moment they too often set men up to fail.