08/11/2012 07:20 GMT | Updated 07/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Who Can Help in the 'Rehabilitation Revolution'?

I'm really pleased that the political will is now firmly behind the rehabilitation of offenders, so that we as a country can try to help people in prison never to go back. Chris Grayling has started off on the right foot in my opinion. It's obvious as I go around prisons recruiting people for our business that we need to be much better, more committed and fully open about the need to help people turn their lives around, and not assume they can always do it on their own.

I am working with the team at Newcastle University Business School to help train and inspire the North East prison bosses to become more entrepreneurial in their approach. Creating a culture in prisons that is about how you can fit into working life on release, and not about sitting on your bed all day, is one I know is right. I am determined to understand what can be done to reduce the justice system's burden to the taxpayer.

In an open letter to the government (below), we called on government to act. Up to 80% of prisoners could work a full week towards their futures as citizens, yet only a fifth of them have been given this opportunity. Our academics held talks with community, policy and business leaders on this issue several weeks ago to gain a better understanding of the opportunities available to everyone involved.

To dispel fears about the possible negative outcomes of employing ex-offenders, education is just as influential to reforming the prison system as the results expected from private companies. Prison population is diverse and complex and full of untapped opportunity, but the question of how governors can unlock this potential will remain unknown unless they work well with companies.

It's going to take a lot of experts from many areas to inform this 'rehabilitation revolution'. Universities such as Newcastle and bodies like the Institute of Social Renewal are some of the best resources to advise prison governors towards a new way of thinking.

Prison governors need to become commercially driven to enable this cultural change. By starting a discussion on the type of 'intelligent approach', we can turn prisoner rehabilitation away from becoming a problem this country needs to solve and into something this country can use to its full advantage.

A commitment to allow prisoners to re-enter society, as opposed to just letting them rot, has real potential to improve the outcome of our justice system for everyone. So go for it Chris, go for it MoJ, go for it prison bosses, and as citizens we need to play our part in supporting this agenda.

Our open letter...

SIR - Working prisons provide offenders with the skills and support they need to turn away from a life of crime. Not enough of our prisoner population is in work, yet governors estimate as many as 80 per cent are in a position to work a full week.

The Government is pursuing an agenda to reform the prison system (report, October 9) in order to reduce re-offending rates. At the same time, the Government wants to bring outsourced operations of business back to Britain. If we allow prisoners to work, they can support their families and contribute to victims' funds, relieving a burden to the taxpayer.

But there are commercial and practical challenges: prisons must be able to attract local employers and negotiate profitable contracts. And we, as a society, must overcome our intolerance of those who have committed crimes and realise that work is essential to their rehabilitation.

Professor James Timpson OBE

Visiting Goldman Professor of Innovation and Enterprise at Newcastle University Business School

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE

Director of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal

Dr Joanna Berry

Director of Engagement at Newcastle University Business School

Dr Sheena Maberly

Head of Learning, Skills & Employment at North East Prisons

Debbie Ryan

Director of Justice at Working Links

Dr Panos Piperopoulos

Lecturer in Enterprise and Creativity at Newcastle University Business School

Simon Newberry

Director of Strategic Partnerships at G4S Care & Justice Service

James Ramsbotham

Chief Executive of North East Chamber of Commerce