I am a Conservative, and a firm believer in the need of the criminal justice system as a means of deterring crime and giving fair punishment to those who break the law. To those who experience it, fortunately I am not among them, crime has a devastating impact on their lives, it makes people feel less safe in their homes, fear for their loved ones and trust those around them a little less.
Crime should be punished but the reality is that 99% of those who exist in our prisons will one day be released. Despite Government’s efforts over the years, adult offenders have a proven reoffending rate of 45.8%. Among juvenile offenders the rate is more troubling at 67.1%. These are not just sobering statistics, but each crime means more victims and an eye watering £13 billion cost to the UK taxpayer.
Before the result of the referendum, the great reformer and former Justice Secretary Michael Gove was due to oversee major prison reform announced in the Queen’s speech. These reforms, along with £1.3 billion of investment, involved 6 prisons in London in which governors would be given freedom over budgets, education, regime and partnerships with external rehabilitation services. With recent events giving Britain new leadership, it is my sincere hope that Theresa May and the new Justice Secretary Liz Truss will continue down this path.
According to the Ministry of Justice, there are 85,000 offenders in prison. This number, as well as being too high, represents a monumental waste of human life. Whatever an individuals reason for committing crime, the cycle of reoffending represents a major failing in the criminal justice system. Poor levels of education, difficulty finding employment and no sense of purpose in society leads many ex-prisoners to chose crime again.
The proposed reforms I mentioned earlier, to give prison governors the freedom to manage their institutions partnerships with external rehabilitation services offers an exciting opportunity to train prisoners in business skills required for self-employment. When you are self-employed your boss does not discriminate based on your criminal record or your educational achievements, because your boss is you.
In a recent study, The Centre for Entrepreneurs emphasise the importance of teaching business skills to prisoners. They remind us that self-employment gives ex-prisoners the chance to pursue the opportunities that match their skill sets, experience and interests. I also see it as a way to give these individuals a stake in society. If we feel like we have a place in our community, we take pride in it and we are less likely to act in a way that does it harm.
To offer an example, many of us will remember in 2007 when Levi Roots secured the investment he needed for his ‘Reggae Sauce’ business. This pitch as well as being entertaining for viewers has made Mr Roots very rich, with an estimated fortune of £30 million. What many people don’t know is that Mr Roots served time in prison.
The Centre for Entrepreneurs reports that the UK stands to save up to £1.4 billion each year by introducing business skills programmes into prisons. This is not just a cost saving exercise however. A successful partnership between UK prisons, backed by Government investment, means less victims of crime, a safer community, and more businesses, meaning more employment and innovation.
In preparation for writing this article I investigated a number of existing partnerships abroad, I will use one to illustrate. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), is a charity based in the United States of America which provides resources and business skills to inmates so that once they are released from prison they can pursue successful lives. This includes long-term one-on-one training with carefully selected inmates. Volunteer mentors with business knowledge offer their expertise on composing business plans and putting them into action. When inmates have left prison, PEP continues to guide them in their start-ups. PEP boast that for every dollar invested, there is a 340% return on investment due to avoided incarceration and welfare payments.
If the Government is serious therefore about cutting reoffending rates through prison reform it must invest in partnerships that will give prisoners the required skills to become self-employed.