Our CEO, Peter Holloway, shares his thoughts on three recent news items and how they relate to our work and the prison sector as a whole.
GOOD NEWS FOR PEOPLE LEAVING PRISON!
One key factor influencing whether prison leavers return is if they are able to secure employment. In 2021, ‘job centre’- style employment hubs were rolled out to help those in prison get a job. Employers like Greggs, the Co-op and DHL joined this initiative. Employment Advisory Boards, which have been set up in 92 resettlement prisons, help identify jobs and match them with people in custody who are interviewed via video link.
Since April 2021, the number of people who have been employed within six months of leaving prison has more than doubled from 14% to 30%.
For many years, it has felt as if James Timpson was a lone voice in industry championing the benefits of employing people from prison. Timpson states ‘We find that “returning citizens” are the most loyal, honest and hard-working colleagues of all.’ Therefore, it is good to recognise such a positive initiative in prisons being supported by other big employers. This new scheme shows companies that employing prison leavers is good for their business and gives them opportunity to be part of a growing movement for national change.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
When Andrea Albutt, the President of the Prison Governors Association spoke to MPs recently, she said that prisons policy has taken a ‘catastrophic direction’ since 2010, with prisons at risk of becoming ‘little more than warehouses of despair, danger and degradation.’ The speech went on to express how successive justice ministers had created what she described as ‘the race to the bottom,’ as unrealistic cuts to the service were sought.
When looking at the facts relating to budget cuts and the current staffing crisis in prisons, it is hard to disagree with much of what Andrea says. However, in this context, we can be hopeful about the huge demand for Prison Fellowship volunteers to do more to support people in prison through our programmes and assisting the amazing work of chaplaincy departments.
PRISON POPULATION HEADING TOWARDS 100,000
In May 2023, the prison population peaked again at over 85,000 people. In February, a bulletin released by the Ministry of Justice said that prison population is projected to increase, with a central estimate of 94,400 by March 2025. The extra 20,000 prison places being built will not be ready fast enough, leading the government to use police cells.
Prison numbers are a result of Government policy and not a ‘statistical accident.’ Sentencing periods have increased dramatically— the use of non-custodial sentences is minimal. The increase in prison places and police numbers is clearly a strategy to increase our lead as the Western European nation that locks up the most people per capita. The National Audit Office has stated there is no link between the size of the prison population and crime levels. Therefore, we can conclude that this strategy is being pursued for reasons other than reducing crime.
Yet, I do see a ray of light: new prisons mean modern facilities. Victorian prisons were designed for the policies of their day. Modern buildings provide new opportunities and we stand in hope those are utilised.
Peter Holloway is the Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship England and Wales.
This article was first published in our quarterly magazine in:sight. You can sign up to receive our free magazine by post or via email by visiting prisonfellowship.org.uk/subscribe