Phil Bennion has praised the ‘inspirational and effective’ work at HMP Featherstone to prepare offenders nearing their release date for employment instead of crime.
The Lib Dem MEP, a member of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee, made his comments after visiting the prison near Wolverhampton to see at first-hand the work carried out by prisoners as they prepare to get a job and for life after prison.
HMP Featherstone is an adult Category C Closed Training prison that provides education, training and work experience for prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentence.
Prisoners can gain training and qualifications in a variety of skills including horticulture, t-shirt production, fabrics, production line work assembling fire-lighters and office chairs, working with machinery, welding and car mechanics as well as trades such as painting and decorating, tiling and brick-laying.
The work and training at the prison is led by Steve Paice (Business Development Manager) and Gill Coates and is carried out with prison staff who work in association with lecturers from Dudley College.
Chance (2013) Ltd, an employment agency for ex-prisoners, was incorporated in February after a period of research and evaluation. Led by Kate Beech, Chance has an office at HMP Featherstone in order to get to know the skills of each prisoner prior to release and attempt to find employment to suit those skills.
After the visit Phil Bennion said: “I was very impressed by the work being done at HMP Featherstone with offenders. This is the sort of approach we should have been doing 30 years ago.”
“During my visit, I was shown the prisoners’ work stations and was able to engage with the prisoners and staff. It was impressive to see working practices that resembled a fully functioning factory or warehouse.”
The prisoners work from 8:40 in the morning until 12 noon, with an hour for lunch and then back to work in the afternoon followed by exercise in the evening; a 37 hour working week. All prisoners must have competences in English and Maths before being allowed to work in one of the areas.
Chance 2013 works with local businesses and partners to help find employment for prisoners in the latter stages of their sentences and the first 6 months following their release.
Chance 2013 wants to engage further with local businesses in south Staffordshire and believes that if prisoners can move directly into employment on release, earning an income and paying National Insurance contributions there would be less incentive to re-offend.
Statistics show that prisoners are 40 per cent less likely to re-offend if they have a job to go to after they are released.
Phil Bennion said: “The passion shown by Steve, Gill and Kate to improve the lives of inmates and get local business on board is truly inspirational. They are also managing to deliver an effective rehabilitation programme without increasing costs which will help lead to massive long term potential benefits to society. The savings through future lower crime rates will be enormous”.
HMP Featherstone has existing contracts with businesses to supply goods and is keen to develop partnerships with more businesses in the region.
Phil Bennion commented “It is clear that prisoners are benefitting from carrying out a full day’s work. Local businesses can also benefit from tapping into a workforce that is trained and qualified with real experience.
“I was extremely impressed. The evidence is clear that this sort of approach does cut crime and reduces costs and it should be rolled out across the entire prison service”.
There are nine prisons in the West Midlands and with more support it is hoped that the scheme can be widened.
Caption: From left Phil Bennion MEP, Kate Beech (Chance (2013) Ltd.), Gill Coates (HMP Featherstone), Steve Paice ( Business Development Manager HMP Featherstone).