Every year, re-offending criminals cost the government around £15bn.
It’s a sizeable hole in the public purse, and the Ministry of Justice is looking to construction to help close it.
In its Education and Employment Strategy report released in May this year, the MoJ identified the industry as a key sector to which prisoners could be integrated upon release.
This is because ours is a sector where demand for workers is already high – and could rise further following Brexit, according to the report.
As a result, the MoJ is pushing its construction training programmes, rolled out across 75 prisons across the country, out to the industry harder than ever.
Indeed, when I interviewed HMP Onley governor Matthew Tilt, he was speaking to me over the phone from UK Construction Week, where the prison was raising awareness about its 14 construction courses (ranging from bricklaying to a diploma in precast and pre-stressed concrete operations).
It seems to be a win-win. The government wants to save the cash and contractors are facing a skills gap – so why not train ex-offenders to fill these vacancies?
After all, research carried out by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the MoJ and the Department for Education in 2015 showed that offenders who participate in education programmes are 7.5 percentage points less likely to re-offend within 12 months of release.
To be perfectly honest, I was sceptical before my visit to HMP Brixton.
I wasn’t sure whether prisoners would genuinely use their training in the outside world after release.
But meeting some of the inmates, as well as seeing the work training charity Bounce Back is doing, highlighted the stigma that surrounds current and former offenders alike.
One trainee, Emmanual, said he had found a sense of purpose through the painting and decorating course he was on, adding that he “definitely” wanted a job in the industry upon release.
Unfortunately, the statistics aren’t on his side.
According to MoJ estimates, only 17 per cent of ex-offenders manage to get a job on release.
However, there is a lack of information available to assess how successful prison training programmes have been in practice.
When CN asked for the number of prisoners who had gained a construction qualification, and the number who had secured an industry job after being released, the MoJ said it was unable to provide any figures.
As I outline in my feature being published tomorrow, companies could also face unique challenges incorporating ex-offenders into their business.
Yet those who do stand to reap the business benefits of utilising this prison training model – and meeting the people who are benefiting from it was nothing short of inspirational.