Lady Valerie Corbett: Prison sentences that last beyond release

Lady Valerie Corbett

For many ex-offenders their prison sentence starts AFTER they've been released. A professional woman who served her sentence for fraud said she was continually turned down for jobs (which had nothing to
do with finance) because she had to explain the gap in her CV.

In 2013 I started a charity (in association with the Prison Reform Trust) to draw attention to rehabilitation projects as a tribute to my husband's legacy. For 10 years until his death he was Chair of the All-Party Prison Reform Group and thought prison shouldn't be about society's revenge but rather a chance to change the direction of a life.

An immense amount of work is done by committed people within prisons and by some charities to support men and women about to be released and help them find accommodation and a job. The stats are stark. Within two years in the 18-24 age category, 60% will reoffend; that figure plummets to 19% when they are in a job.

But you won't have read or seen any of these rehabilitation projects because the news media are not keen to feature on good news stories involving prisons.

In March 2016 I organised a discussion group with other charities involved in the same work and they have become our partners. Our belief is that prisons are not full of bad people; they are full of people who've done bad things and, we think anyone can change their lives if given the right support after they have served their sentence.

Here are a few of the activities and aspirations of our partners:

Choirs Beating Time (of which I am a Trustee) organises weekly voice and performance groups in prisons to: build a sense of belonging to a positive community- 42% of prisoners have been excluded from school before they ever reach the prison gates, counter depression/anxiety and develop employability skills. To this end they set up a job fair inside HMP Birmingham. No less than 30 CEO's/senior people came and were open to employing ex-offenders. The National Distribution Director offered a job on the spot to one prisoner who spoke. Heather Phillips, CEO of Beating Time said: "The IOD and Chamber of Commerce want to work with us and I was given an intro to the CEO of HS2 - great for jobs in Birmingham.”

The Traverse Trust's goal is help more companies employ ex-offenders; to change employers' perceptions of ex-offenders and show that given a chance they are a motivated, loyal, skilled workforce.

The Mitie Foundation develop training facilities inside prisons, outside prisons and in the community, to meet local employers' skills shortages. Training would include building fabric, painting & decorating, dry lining, kitchen installation, joinery, CSCS, PTS and other recognised qualifications.

St Giles Trust are a leading employer of ex-offenders and work with people at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. We create safer communities by reducing the number of people driven to commit crime and preventing future victims. We offer support around factors which are known toaffect offending such as housing, employment and ensuring our clients can access the right services to help them overcome any barriers.”

Lady Corbett is the widow of Robin, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale who died in 2012. Because he was passionate about prisoner rehabilitation and was Chair of the all-party Penal Reform Group Lady Corbett has established an award, with the Prison Reform Trust. It provides funding for charities doing the most to support ex offenders by finding them a place to live and a job. 60% of ex-offenders return to prison within two years. That figure drops to19% when they have a job. The Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation is chaired by Lord Ramsbotham (a former Inspector of Prisons) and is presented annually in the House of Commons. Find out more about the award here.