A training programme to get prison leavers into work is to be expanded to include at least 17 more prisons in the next four years.
The government has launched a tender for contracts up to £1 million to bolster its ties with employers to deliver HMP Academies in prisons.
HMP Academies are work programmes delivered by employers to provide specialist or vocational training to prisoners with the aim of bolstering employment prospects on release.
A small number of the programmes are already running with employers such as Timpson, Halfords and Max Spiellman.
The Ministry of Justice has identified a further 17 provisional spaces in prisons across the country with hopes of more to follow.
The contract tender, open until the end of the month, has a planned start date of mid June with a four-year duration.
The contract tender said it was seeking partnerships with “a diverse range of businesses from across all sectors that can offer prisoners a second chance” and “smooth the path from prison to employment”.
According to the MoJ, employment leads to a fall in reoffending rates of up to 9 percentage points.
A prison service spokesperson said: “Getting offenders into work is a tried and tested way of cutting crime and protecting the public, while also boosting our economy by helping employers plug vital skills gaps.”
The programme is separate to the Future Skills Programme, which supports prisoners nearing the end of their sentence with bespoke training courses, and the Prisoner Education Service.
The structure of the academies is determined by the needs of the employers who run them and there is no requirement for formal qualifications to be included unless the firms deem it necessary.
The MoJ makes the spaces available in prison, provides some funding and pledges an interview for a vacancy for those who complete an academy for employment.
Jon Collins, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, welcomed the plans but said the MoJ must also “radically improve” prison education to provide literacy and numeracy.
Halfords started its first programme, for male prisoners at HMP Onley near Daventry, in 2014. It now runs only one, at the women’s HMP Drake Hall prison near Stafford, which opened in 2017.
It has 12 women at a time in the workshop learning bicycle mechanics for a period of at least six months, working four-and-a-half days a week. When one prisoner completes the programme, another joins.
Those who complete the programme are guaranteed an interview and receive an internal cycle mechanic qualification.
Drake Hall is currently assessing whether a formal qualification can be achieved through the course, Halfords said.
About 100 men completed the programme at Onley and 15 women have so far completed a programme at Drake Hall.
Andy McBride, group head of resourcing and reward at Halfords, told FE Week: “The feedback is that it has been brilliant – they didn’t think they would ever get a job on release, they have learned loads, they feel much more confidence in the workplace. Even if they don’t end up joining us, I feel we have played our part if they then subsequently get a job somewhere else.”
McBride said it can be “a costly model” to set up workshops but added: “I absolutely support other businesses getting involved.
“We could see the business benefits as well as the society benefits. We sell a lot of bikes, we repair a lot of bikes and it’s a skills set that’s hard to find, so it gave us an opportunity to tap into other talent pools.”
Meanwhile, Timpson runs a number of academy programmes in prisons that are designed to mimic its high street stores.
The firm’s website said this enables prisoners to be trained in “all the services we provide” but the “only exception to this is key cutting, for obvious reasons”.