High street firms should hire prisoners and help to get more ex-offenders into work, says Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.
Businesses, including household names such as Virgin and Marks & Spencer, can hire ex-offenders without damaging their reputation or values, he added.
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,” said Mr Clarke.
“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.”
Mr Clarke was speaking ahead of the launch of ONE3ONE Solutions, which will replace the Prison Industries unit in helping prisoners to improve their job prospects. He said there were 131 prisons across England and Wales where there was the space for some sort of training and work-related experience.