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A better outlet for misdirected energies

Emma Goldman, the Russian revolutionary, once said: "Crime is naught but misdirected energy." Setting aside the costs to victims and their families, the cost of those misdirected energies is around pound;65,000 for each conviction.

Estimates also suggest that most crime is committed by people who have already been through the criminal justice system, with a cost to society of pound;11 billion.

This raises an important question for the prison system. How can it better equip offenders for release? How can it help them go straight?

Most offenders have a history of unemployment and extremely low skills.

Something can be done about this. It isn't necessarily easy, but we are making a good start.

In December 2005, the Government published the Green Paper Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment. This set out a strategy for the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Home Office.

Following thorough consultation, we have produced a new publication, The Next Steps, which signals the beginning of a practical and innovative approach to re-engaging offenders through skills-based learning.

This is not about giving special treatment to offenders. The key to improving their skills and employability is to achieve what we aim to do for all adults. We are putting employers in the driving seat.

All of this needs to be supported by an emphasis in prisons and probation services on skills and jobs, with a package of rewards and penalties to motivate offenders to take up the opportunities on offer.

The Green Paper broke new ground and has been welcomed. Action is already under way.

The Learning and Skills Council has reformed education and training for offenders, with a stronger focus on good quality vocational work. There are encouraging signs from inspections that quality is improving sharply.

We are introducing "job developers", initially in six cities, to improve the likelihood of offenders finding and holding down work. From April, we will introduce a target for the probation service based on the numbers of offenders in employment for at least four weeks. The Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending will support employers and promote the benefits of employing offenders.

A good example is Arun. He ended up receiving a four-year sentence at HMP Canterbury, which started a peer advice project run by offenders and homelessness charity the St Giles Trust. Arun completed a level 3 NVQ in advice and guidance, working initially as a volunteer offering housing and resettlement advice and guidance to fellow prisoners. He also trained and supported other peer advisors. He was later appointed as an employment advisor at the skills and training charity Red Kite Learning.

We must strive to break the repetitive cycle of criminal activity that costs our economy over pound;11 billion every year, because the alternative is simply unacceptable.

We want fewer people suffering from crime. That is what the "next steps"

will do.

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