Why I believe the government prison apprenticeship scheme needs to be more ambitious

I read with great interest the government’s recent announcement to introduce apprenticeships for prisoners in UK prisons, but while it’s fantastic news, I felt it could have been more ambitious and should go much further.

Our business already delivers substantial social impact through its work with ex-offenders, and of course I welcome any initiative under which prisoners will be offered apprenticeships and job-based training because evidence that prison leavers in work are significantly less likely to re-offend.

I’d like to see the new scheme rolled out more quickly and dove-tailed more effectively into the opportunities already being provided by us here at Recycling Lives and other companies with similar programmes in place. I’d also like to see support for offenders to go beyond simply providing a job which is one vital step on the rehabilitation ladder.

Experience tells us that support on issues not directly related to a job are equally important as people try to rebuild their lives. We achieve this in a coordinated approach, with our partner charity using a person-centred technique, but this could also be achieved by improving the integration of re-homing, wellbeing and financial support.

As a nation, we can only maximise reducing reoffending if we use these initiatives to benefit the education system, the prison estates and business across the country. It is well evidenced that the higher someone’s skill level, the more they can earn, and in turn the better the outcomes not only for themselves but also their families and broader society, improving health and other social measures.

Having set-up our social value programmes in 2008, Recycling Lives has helped in excess of 500 ex-offenders to transform their lives, and we continue to provide support for ex-offenders once they are employed with our company because that is an essential part of the process to ensure it is sustainable.

Business as a whole must be involved in the design of these apprenticeship routes alongside the justice system to help expand the available workforce and deliver the reduction on crime and reoffending. Our model shows this can be done at zero net cost increase to the government, but with substantial long-term benefit to society.

Having grown around a strong belief in social sustainability, our business and partner charity work together seamlessly to maximise social value and life-changing initiatives. Together we’re already actively engaged with 29 custodial settings across the UK to rehabilitate ex-offenders and help lower reoffending rates by providing support and work opportunities.

We’ve also pioneered award-winning programmes and currently support seven Academy workshops within prisons across the North West, Yorkshire and East Midlands, where ex-offenders can earn, gain skills, and pave the way for employment on their release. In partnership with the Recycling Lives Social Enterprises, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) opportunities are also provided for offenders to work outside the prison environment when they are approaching the end of their sentence, and employment and support is provided for newly released offenders.

If Recycling Lives has a workshop in prison, the apprenticeship needs to be linked to that, building on the knowledge that it can lead to sustainable employment for the men and women upon release. Joined-up thinking of this nature will encourage more businesses to develop workshops within the prison estates and get involved with helping offenders.

At Recycling Lives, we prioritise delivering social impact across every aspect of our business, both in the recycling circular economy and beyond it. We have provided employment for hundreds of people within the justice system, and are in the process of extending this initiative nationwide. We are currently developing plans to increase the number of Academies and extend our work with prisons and police forces still further, providing more opportunities to cut re-offending and reduce crime

Given that offenders are currently unable to take advantage of apprenticeships, the government’s plans to allow offenders at open prisons across England to apply for apprenticeships in vital industries is an excellent step forward. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to learn that the scheme will only be initially accessible to 100 prisoners across England, before being rolled out across the wider prison estate.

I agree wholeheartedly with Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, when he said apprenticeships will offer prisoners a life-changing chance to secure a rewarding career through new skills. However, we should aim to allow a more ambitious number of offenders to be offered the initiative, which would make a real reduction in the £18-billion cost to the taxpayer of reoffending.

Andrew Hodgson is executive chairman of Recycling Lives.