Thousands of prisoners on day release could help fill key job vacancies under plans being considered by ministers.
Inmates would be let out on licence for work placements and apprenticeships in sectors struggling to find staff – such as construction, haulage and hospitality.
Training them would reportedly save billions of pounds a year by cutting reoffending and by boosting the labour market.
The recommendation is in a report from think tank the Centre for Social Justice that is backed by prisons minister Damian Hinds.
He said: “We’re getting more offenders into jobs than ever. But we know we need to go further.”
“This report… shines a light on the importance of, and opportunities in, getting more prison leavers into work.”
Some 50,000 inmates end their terms every year, but only a quarter are in work six months later.
Most are unemployed and at serious risk of reoffending which costs taxpayers £18billion a year, according to the CSJ. It says having a job cuts reoffending by between a third and a half.
The centre-Right body wants the Government to go “further and faster” to increase the total of jail leavers in work.
The report states: “A custodial sentence and the deprivation of liberty should serve as a punishment for, and deterrent to, committing crime. But prison time must also be used as an opportunity to ensure that the cycle of offending is broken.
“There is a compelling body of domestic and international evidence showing that work is a route out of crime.”
The CSJ wants better education in jail and a focus on cutting drug use. It says more should be done to help prisoners settle into a community, including helping them find somewhere to live.
Ex-prisoner Mark Libby is now a CSJ regional manager.
He said: “Time is a rare commodity, but one abundant behind bars. This should be a golden chance for intervention, for laying the foundations on which lives can be rebuilt and for breaking not just the cycle of crime but the trap of poverty.”
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