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Prisoners in the UK are to receive help finding work once they leave prison thanks to a new government-backed IT scheme which aims to install a network of touch-screen computer terminals in prisons across the country.
The Jobpoints computer network, unveiled at the end of August, will provide prisoners with up-to-the minute information on 400,000 vacancies throughout Europe and enable them to submit job applications while still in jail. By planning in advance they will be able to arrange job interviews that coincide with their release dates.
The project aims to improve social inclusion and reduce incidences of re-offending by providing prisoners with a stable economic grounding once they are released. To illustrate the scale of the problem, home secretary David Blunkett points to a recent Social Exclusion Unit report which estimated that re-offenders are responsible for up to one million crimes every year.
Ex-offenders who are helped to find and hold on to a job are half as likely to commit a further offence as those who become unemployed, says Blunkett.
"This project will give prisoners more chance of working legitimately and contributing to the economy and, above all, get themselves out of a life of social exclusion and crime," he adds.
The home secretary's optimism is shared by the minister for work and pensions Malcolm Wicks. "The man who walks out of those prison gates with a job interview to attend, an appointment with a job centre adviser booked, or a list of employers to contact is in a stronger position to make a fresh start," he explains.
"The cycle of re-offending is often all too easy for those with a criminal record. By enabling them to take this active step in planning for their futures, the Government is helping them put their histories firmly in the past."
Jobpoint terminals will initially be piloted in four prisons - Featherstone, Swansea, Hollesley Bay and Lewes. The terminals have already been installed in job centres around the country in a separate scheme to replace the old-style job posting system, which was based on display boards and printed cards.
The Jobpoints scheme was originally developed by IT services firm EDS in partnership with the Employment Service. It uses Elise matching technology from Dutch software firm WCC to help job seekers receive a list of suitable vacancies held on the database based on their search criteria.
The inclusion of prisoners in the Jobpoints scheme augments the work of another IT-based scheme aimed at young offenders. The Worktrain Web site project, which is being piloted at young offenders institutions in Moorland and Onley, as well as prisons in Askham Grange and Durham, uses a network of locked-down computers to provide information about jobs, training places, benefits, childcare and volunteering opportunities.