Inclusive growth through unlocking the potential of offenders

by: Jenny Ames, Director at Jenny Ames Consulting, and James Crabbe, Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University | on: 31.01.18 | in: Industrial strategy, Skills and the labour market

Ex-offenders possess untapped potential and could contribute to economic growth through ensuring equality of opportunity for people who have been failed by the ‘system’ in one way or another, write Jenny Ames and James Crabbe.

Inclusive growth through unlocking the potential of offenders

by: Jenny Ames, Director at Jenny Ames Consulting, and James Crabbe, Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University | on: 31.01.18 | in: Industrial strategy, Skills and the labour market
Ex-offenders possess untapped potential and could contribute to economic growth through ensuring equality of opportunity for people who have been failed by the ‘system’ in one way or another, write Jenny Ames and James Crabbe.

In November 2017, the UK government published its industrial strategy white paper. This sets out how businesses will be supported to grow the economy in the future. Also in 2017, the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee published its fifth report, Support for ex-offenders. While at first sight there may appear to be no link between the two, we argue that ex-offenders possess untapped potential and could contribute to economic growth through ensuring equality of opportunity for people who have been failed by the ‘system’ in one way or another.

There are five foundations underlying growth in the white paper: business environment, infrastructure, ideas, place, and people. Skills development is fundamental to the success of the strategy, and skills are central to the people foundation. The strategy names the three key components of skills development as: the establishment of a world-class technical education system (to stand alongside our higher education system), an extra £404 million in maths, digital and technical education, and creation of a retraining facility, helping people, with an initial focus on digital and construction sectors.

In 2016-17 the prison population stood at 85,839 (males, 81,903; females, 3,936), according to the 2017 report of the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee. A policy paper entitled “2010-2015 government policy: reoffending and rehabilitation” states that around 50% of people who leave prison reoffend within 12 months and in 2015 the cost to the taxpayer of reoffending stood at a staggering £9.5 – 13 billion per year.

Although both education and employment after release help to prevent re-offending, the report includes worrying statistics related to the education and post-release employment of offenders. Thirty-two percent of prisoners reported having a learning difficulty and/or disability, and 47% of prisoners were estimated to have no school qualifications, including GCSEs. Forty-two percent of adult prisoners reported having been permanently excluded from school. Only 26.5% of prisoners entered employment on release. The report also states ‘It is unacceptable for ex-offenders who are job-ready and keen to work to be dismissed by Job Centre Plus as hard cases’.

When it comes to education, skills development and employment, society often forgets prisoners and ex-offenders. Yet addressing their educational needs and harnessing their potential for employment could help to address many of the problems they encounter after prison, including reoffending, while reducing the cost to the country. At the same time, it would help these individuals to feel better integrated into society by contributing to a fundamental national goal – to grow the economy. That is where the potential for truly inclusive growth comes from.

The industrial strategy and associated funding should be an enormous opportunity for all of the UK. But to be successful, an appropriately skilled workforce is required, regardless of background or ability.

The industrial strategy recognises the need to address the barriers encountered by individuals and communities concerning education and skills, as well as enabling all workers to reach their potential. It is good that there is a clear aim to develop technical education so that it is valued as academic education is valued. But the reasons for developing separate academic and technical education routes are unclear and this approach seems unhelpful and would seem to perpetuate the view that Further Education (FE) or skills development and vocational training are a second-class alternatives to university (Crabbe, 2016). It is also unclear why the plan is to deliver technical education solely in FE colleges, which is not what happens currently. Many universities now concentrate on an enquiry-focused approach to learning, deliver a high-level technical component alongside academic learning, and link such integrated learning to multi-disciplinary approaches to applied research and innovation. Examples are included in a recent University Alliance report. Enquiry-based approaches are now being used in Further Education (Hadawi & Crabbe, 2018) for skills development, and it is a small step to incorporate them into skills education for offenders and thus develop the skills workforce through such inclusive growth.

A joined-up education and skills ecosystem is required to ensure that individuals (including prisoners and ex-offenders) receive education and skills development that is right for them and so that communities are enabled to flourish economically.

People receive their education through different providers. As well as schools, FE colleges and universities, a small number of providers currently deliver education in prisons. The Coates Review of education in prisons, published in 2016, recommended a greater influence of local providers for offenders, but this has yet to happen. Regardless of where or how individuals learn, the post-compulsory secondary and tertiary education system needs to be better integrated. This includes how providers are measured. Some common key performance indicators related to the industrial strategy should be included, as should measures that have a direct impact on closing skills shortages, inclusive growth, prosperity, wealth creation, well-being, social mobility, community cohesion, reoffending rates and other such important aspects to society (Hadawi & Crabbe, 2018). To deliver the industrial strategy objectives, the final report from the Industrial Strategy Commission calls for closer working between the DfE and BEIS, FE and Higher Education funding and regulatory systems as well as national and local authorities.

How could such inclusive growth be achieved? One way is by engaging more deeply with ex-offenders after their release. For example, in November 2017 Beyond Youth Custody published a report proposing a theory of change, equally appropriate for adults, for the effective resettlement of young people leaving custody. At the heart of the framework are seven elements to help each person to produce a ‘redemptive script’ that enables them build upon their strengths and identify future goals to develop a pro-social identity and become a responsible individual. Education, skills development and employment, including setting and realising goals, should be at the heart of these scripts. There is a particular need for the development of skills in industries identified for support in the white paper. These are artificial intelligence and big data, the future of mobility, clean growth, and meeting the needs of an ageing society. Involving ex-offenders in these sectors where there is a need for  skills should help to accelerate their successful resettlement and at the same time facilitate economic growth. Such productive employment will also be a means of increasing inclusive growth and raising standards of living in such a marginalised group, resulting in lowering re-offending as well as lowering the cost to the exchequer.

 

Jenny Ames is Director at Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. She can be followed on Twitter @jennyames.

James Crabbe JP is a Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford University. He can be followed on Twitter @jamescrabbe.

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