PrisonerHigh street firms should hire prisoners and help get more ex-offenders into work, the Justice Secretary has said.

Kenneth Clarke said businesses, including household names such as Virgin and Marks & Spencer, can hire ex-offenders without damaging their reputation or values. Up to 40 companies will attend a Downing Street reception later this month where Mr Clarke will outline how prisoners can make loyal and committed employees.

They should be given the chance and support to sort out their lives after leaving jail and there is "no reason" why profits from prisoners' work should not be used to pay for the prisons that house them, he said. "Introducing work experience and training to people who are serving their time and being punished in prison is altogether a more intelligent way of running the prison service," Mr Clarke told the Press Association.

"There is no doubt that people who get sent to prison have made a mistake, society is entitled to look for them to be punished, but also society should be trying to do something to help those who have the gumption to sort themselves out, to resume an ordinary honest life as decent citizens when they leave.

"If you just incarcerate people, if prison is just a warehouse in which you keep people and then release them without guidance into the world, it's hardly surprising that half of them will be back within 12 months, having committed more crime.

"Many prisoners do not want to be part of that cycle. We need to facilitate the way in which people get back into a normal life and do not commit further crimes again."

Speaking ahead of the launch of ONE3ONE Solutions, which will replace the Prison Industries unit in helping prisoners to improve their job prospects, Mr Clarke said there were 131 prisons across England and Wales where there was the space for some sort of training and work-related experience.

"Some of that will be organised by what was our Prison Industries but more and more of it (will be) normal household name firms actually doing it as part of their social responsibility and the running of their business."

A Virgin Group spokesman said: "We believe the more productive people can be while they are in prison, the more they can develop their skills and the better their chances of rehabilitation and of succeeding and not reoffending on release. Everyone deserves a second chance and research shows that many ex-offenders are more committed and willing to do more than 'just the job' and are grateful for the opportunity to do something worthwhile."

A Marks & Spencer spokeswoman said the firm does not have a formal programme which targets ex-offenders but they can be referred to its Marks & Start scheme, which aims to support people who face barriers getting into work.

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