Cuts to careers services in prisons: what we know

28 Feb 2018

Update: The PLA has published a briefing paper on the decision not to extend the in-custody National Careers Service (NCS) contracts, which you can read here. The letter has attracted national media attention and prompted the issue to be raised in the House of Lords.

The PLA has written to Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, and received a reply, but a number of questions remain unanswered. Scroll down to the ‘What are we doing about it?’ section below to read more.  

What do careers advisers do?

NCS advisers support prisoners throughout their sentences to help them develop clear action plans based on independent careers advice and local labour market information, so they can prepare and work towards finding employment opportunities in the community. As well as face to face support, the ‘Inspiring Careers in Custody’ stream of funding is used by NCS providers in various ways including employment fairs, running workshops and organising talks by former prisoners who have found employment. Vitally for PET and distance learners, careers advisers are often responsible for helping men and women to apply for distance learning courses in subjects and levels otherwise unavailable in prisons, in order to improve their employability for particular careers.

Karen, an ex-prisoner who now works on a National Careers Service (NCS) contract in a women’s prison, is profiled here. She says: “For some coming to prison was the first time they are able to really think about what they wanted to do with their lives. Securing an interview or even a job made a huge difference to women, and gave them hope for their future after release.”

Who do the cuts affect?

As of 31 March 2018, every careers advisor in England is at risk of losing  their job, affecting over 200 members of staff and the thousands of prisoners who rely on their education and employment advice.  We understand that prison governors were not directly informed of this decision, which was made at the end of December 2017, and only found out when NCS providers told them the news.

Why is this happening?

As part of the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), this is the question we would like to be answered.

NCS contracts, both in prisons and communities, had been due to end in April 2018, however as the replacement Information, Advice and Guidance provision under the new Education Commissioning Framework has not yet been put into place, there was an expectation in the sector that they would be extended until the new provision was in place. Contracts in the community have been extended so there is no gap in provision, but the same has not been done in prisons. This will mean at least a five-month gap in services, during which time many experienced staff with good employer connections will lose their jobs.  We understand some staff are leaving already as they have found alternative employment, meaning the gap in services will be even longer in some prisons.

In statements to the media, the MoJ said it is: “[C]ommitted to providing education and training to deliver more effective rehabilitation to address the needs of offenders,” and that it was reviewing options that would give governors more control.

The MoJ has also said; “Prisons offer a range of employment support including through the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS), Community Rehabilitation Companies, and DWP Work Coaches. The New Futures Network will help build links between prisons and local employers to promote the hiring of former offenders’”

There has been speculation that  the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) job coaches or Community Rehabilitation Companies  (CRCs) might take on the careers advice role in the interim period in some prisons. However, the PLA believes these are not equivalent, as job coaches and CRCs are traditionally brought in just before a person’s release and do not offer independent careers and education guidance and support at the start and throughout someone’s sentence. Schuller, quoted in The Guardian, says: “It is not good enough to suggest that DWP job coaches will simply replace careers advisers in prisons. The two have different functions, as is reflected by the fact that both roles will continue in the community.”

What are we doing about it?

After hearing from a number of careers advisers who were deeply concerned they were due to lose their jobs, the PLA wrote to Prisons Minister Rory Stewart expressing concern about the cuts to this valuable service and asking why the decision had been made and what steps were being taken to replace the service. On 26 February, the PLA received a reply from the Prisons Minister which you can read here. Issues which, in the PLA’s view, remain unaddressed are as follows:

  • The “alternative approach to the commissioning and delivery of information, advice and guidance” mentioned in the letter, which encourages more joined-up support, may give opportunities to provide a better service to prisoners in the long term, but there is no mention of when this new model will come into effect, and it is unlikely this will be ready by 1 April.
  • As explored in the section above, the PLA believes that the role of NCS advisers is not equivalent to that performed by CRCs and DWP work coaches.
  • In light of these points, it is still unclear what is going to be in place from 1 April to replace the vital support that NCS staff in prisons are currently delivering.

The PLA has published a briefing about the decision, incorporating the voices of current NCS advisers and outlining our concerns about the decision and the impact any gap in provision would have, in terms of loss of experienced and dedicated staff from the prison system, and the valuable rehabilitative opportunities they facilitate for prisoners. 

What can you do?

Finding employment is a way for someone who has been in prison to successful re-enter their communities, support their families and build a future away from crime. Finding employment has been proven as one of the most effective ways to ensure someone does not reoffend. 

It is important to therefore to keep asking the government to explain its decision to cut NCS services in prisons, and to either review the decision or ensure a suitable alternative is in place by 1st April.

If you share our concern, you can write to your MP, making them aware of the loss of this service and calling on them to seek answers.  

If you have a personal experience of being a careers adviser, or have experienced the work done by the NCS in prisons, your please share your story with us.