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College welcomes government’s apprenticeship scheme for ex-offenders

PRISONERS are now able to take up apprenticeships so they have the prospect of employment on their release under a new scheme announced by the government.

The move has been hailed as a breakthrough by staff at Milton Keynes College, one of the leading providers of prison education in the UK. Its staff work in 19 prisons across the country.

The college is working with RMF Construction to provide apprenticeship opportunities and both say the government’s announcement could have a real impact on cutting reoffending.

The announcement comes at the end of a campaign of several years over which Milton Keynes College Group’s acting chief executive Sally Alexander pictured has been lobbying the Ministry of Justice to allow prisoners to take the apprenticeship route. She has has decades of experience in the sector having previously been in charge of prison education services.

“All the evidence shows that people coming out of prison are significantly less likely to reoffend if they have work to go to,” she said.  “Access to apprenticeships will mean they can start working, learning and earning, virtually from the day they are released, paying taxes and becoming contributing members of society.

“That is good news for everyone.”

RMF has worked with former prisoners for years and operations manager Dara McCarthy, who is responsible for the West Midlands company’s social inclusion policy, recognises the benefits to the business and the importance of paid employment in reducing reoffending.

“We know how much they have to offer. Our partnership with MK College Group means that students come to us with many of the skills we need to be able to employ them right away. Naturally the opportunity for apprenticeships was something we were excited to trailblaze and it is a statement of intent from both us and MK College to have a vacancy live from day one.”

Over the past three years Milton Keynes College Group’s Employment Academy programme has helped more than 700 ex-offenders into jobs. It has been involved in prisoner education for 27 years.

The government signalled its intention to allow prisoners to take up apprenticeships seven months ago and providers such as MKCG have been waiting since that time to get the scheme under way.  The decision was made in response to a highly critical report from the Commons Education Select Committee of the government’s approach to prison education, which it described as “chaotic.”  Committee chair Robert Halfon MP said: “One of our key recommendations was that prisoners should be given the chance to take up apprenticeships. Ex-prisoners who find employment are statistically less likely to offend. Giving offenders a route back into work is the best way to reintegrate and reinvest them in society. I am grateful to the government for taking this step.”

Ms Alexander says the announcement is a real vote of confidence in the teachers who provide education to prisoners in the most challenging circumstances.  “Some of the best teachers you could hope to find anywhere work in our prisons and their contribution so often goes completely unappreciated.  I hope they all feel a great sense of pride that the government has taken this decision because it is most definitely a reflection of their dedication and professionalism.”

Initially, only prisoners who are eligible for release on temporary licence will be able to start apprenticeships. It is hoped that if the scheme proves a success, it may be made more widely available.

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