Whitehall `censored' report on offenders

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The Independent Online
The Government has been accused of censoring a report they commissioned, after all references to links between crime and unemployment were erased from a draft version.

The omissions include an introductory quote from Baroness Blatch, a Home Office minister, in which she says there is growing evidence that offenders are more likely to settle in the community if they are given work or training. The final version of the Home Office funded report, "National Audit of Offender Employment Policies and Practice" excludes a series of statements which were found in the draft edition.

The report was carried out by a charitable trust but was overseen by a working group that included representatives of the Home Office, the Prison Service and the Department for Education and Employment.

It is understood government departments are keen to play down links between crime and unemployment. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is putting through measures in the Police Bill which are expected to result in up to 8 million people seeking a job having their criminal records vetted each year. The proposed Criminal Records Agency will provide three levels of checks, according to the sensitivity of the job.

Penal reform groups have condemned the measures, saying they would make ex-offenders unemployable. So, ministers do not want to be seen to be supporting research that suggests unemployed ex-criminals will reoffend.

The Apex Trust, an ex-offender employment organisation for England and Wales, produced a draft report in July.

But the final version which looks at employment training and educational facilities for prisoners and ex-offenders, which was produced in September, had big chunks missing.

Paragraphs taken out of the introduction included: "In her opening address to the multi-agency seminar `Improving the Employment Prospects of Offenders' in 1995, Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for the Home Office, said `there is now a growing body of evidence to show that supervision and resettlement is more likely to be successful if offenders are offered employment or training.'" Another line in the draft version's Findings, Policy and Strategy section which was later omitted was: "The Home Office recognise that employment contributes to the successful rehabilitation of offenders".

There are further examples such as: "[The Prison Service} considers work to be one of the principle means of reducing reoffending post release."

Godfrey Allen, chief executive of the Apex Trust, refused to comment on suggestions that the report had been "knobbled". "We have been commissioned to do a piece of work. It's their report and its up to them what they do with it and when they publish it," he said.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "This change smacks of ministerial censorship.

"The report shows clearly that the best way of preventing future crimes is jobs and employment. That view is clearly endorsed by the Minister in the first draft."

A Home Office spokesman said the report was commissioned to look at what was happening within offender employment, and that the final version was the responsibility of Apex. She added that the report was not connected in any way with the vetting issue.