National prisoner scheme launched

A NATIONAL scheme to help prevent prisoners returning to a life of crime on release was launched officially yesterday at Chelmsford Prison.Prisons Minister Hilary Benn was in Essex to highlight Employment Inside and Out, designed to persuade employers of the benefits to be gained by setting up training and work schemes in prisons.

A NATIONAL scheme to help prevent prisoners returning to a life of crime on release was launched officially yesterday at Chelmsford Prison.

Prisons Minister Hilary Benn was in Essex to highlight Employment Inside and Out, designed to persuade employers of the benefits to be gained by setting up training and work schemes in prisons.

The initiative is an 18-month programme of events in prisons all over the country and yesterday business leaders from the engineering, catering, construction, vehicle maintenance and retail sectors heard first hand from Mr Benn about the opportunities available in prisons to help businesses meet their employment skills gap.

Ex-offenders already comprise a large proportion of the workforce as one in four men under 40 have a criminal record. However, 90% of offenders with custodial sentences face unemployment on release, often because they lack skills and work experience.

Meanwhile, the initiative argues, many business now have trouble filling their vacancies, so a public-private partnership could provide the solution.

Employment Inside and Out was set up by the Inside Out Trust, which runs skills based workshops in 72 prisons involving more than 1,000 prisoners. Bicycles, wheelchairs and computers are renovated and Braille books produced, and then sent out in the UK and overseas to people in need.

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Margaret Carey, trust director, said: "It's nothing to do with giving prisoners a treat – if we're going to get these people back into work, which will benefit everybody, they need to get engrossed and to feel they're achieving something.

"It's no good giving them mindless work – that's not going to motivate anyone into wanting a job. In some parts of the country there are 14 vacancies for every applicant. Businesses need skilled, motivated workers, so all they need to do is teach skills and provide motivating work."

John, from Chelmsford Prison, added: "I have grown to love the work I do. Feelings of hope and joy come to mind when I complete a wheelchair for the kids as I know it will give them the most joy. I learn something new everyday."]

Dr Mary Harris, head of the National Grid Transco Foundation, told the meeting that Transco set up a scheme in Reading as a result of a chronic shortage of trained people to renew the country's gas distribution network. So far, nine young men who completed the training course are out of prison and working with Transco contractors.

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