In the UK, almost three out of 10 people sentenced or cautioned for a crime go on to reoffend within a year. Office for National Statistics figures suggest that, on average, each re-offender commits four offences in that time.
The societal case for supporting former offenders back into work is strong, says Rebekah Wallis, HR director at Ricoh. And that led the company to think about its own business case. “One of the key drivers for not reoffending is, alongside homes, having employment to move into. So we started the journey of investigating what we could do.”
The imaging and electronics company has been working with both prisons and ex-offenders for a number of years. Initially, its CSR activities were focused on more traditional areas, but that changed after CEO Phil Keoghan attended an open day at HM Prison Brixton in 2013.
“He came back very passionate, very enthused, particularly in terms of the societal case for supporting prisons with the number of people who reoffend,” says Wallis.
The firm started its outreach by running CV writing sessions at HMP Onley, a facility near its Northampton headquarters. Wallis herself attended an open day and decided there was more to be done. “I was thinking, ‘I’m sure we can do something,’” she says.
Ricoh now has an employee based in the prison who operates a training academy working with digital printers, offering opportunities for up to eight prisoners. “It’s a learning opportunity for individuals with a view that when they do leave the prison they get an opportunity to get a job,” she says. The academy is also an operational part of the business and carries out the prison’s printing, as well as handling orders from external customers.
The company’s employability workshops have also expanded. In the financial year 2018-19, Ricoh ran eight events in prisons around the UK, serving 120 prisoners, and has given 44 of its own employees volunteering leave to attend these sessions.
This work has in turn helped Ricoh create a talent pipeline of former offenders to transition into the business. Individuals who come through any of the employability workshops, are close to leaving prison and have an interest in working with Ricoh or a partner organisation are encouraged to get in touch after leaving, says Wallis.
There are also various other structures in place through organisations including Business in the Community – which Ricoh works closely with – to help ex-offenders into placements, and the organisation is a Ban the Box employer, meaning it doesn’t ask in the early stages of the recruitment process whether a candidate has any prior convictions.
“Ban the Box is applicable to everyone who applies to us, so we wouldn’t actually know how many people who had applied were ex-offenders,” says Wallis.
“If I was going to recommend anything as a first step for employers who are thinking about getting into supporting a reduction in reoffending, it would be to investigate Ban the Box and look at what that means for their organisation.”
When the business first introduced the scheme, Wallis and Keoghan held calls with middle managers to address any pushback. “It’s all very well to set policy and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ but actually day-to-day, the managers are the ones who have to deal with this,” she says.
Managers raised concerns over what they should or shouldn’t say, and how much they should tell team members. “It would be fair to say, as with any change, there is that initial lack of understanding, that sort of fear – not fear specifically of taking on people who are ex-offenders but fear of something that’s just a little bit different,” says Wallis.
Managers now have “a real passion” for working with ex-offenders, which Wallis puts down to exposure. “Seeing is believing. Having them in for work experience, having them for release on temporary licence – they [managers] absolutely make it their responsibility, they want to make it work. It’s a really positive mindset.”
Wallis also integrates community work, including with ex-offenders, into the firm’s team building and leadership training opportunities. “My view is actually a lot of the community investment work we do is team building by its very nature,” she says. “You’re all working for the same purpose, you’re working on something you don’t know – you’re outside your comfort zone.”
Each level of the company’s leadership programme is now linked in some way or another to community investment activities. “I think what it’s done for us is open up a whole new level of inclusivity – not just with people who are coming from outside the organisation, but also in terms of their own teams.”
As a result, engagement is “massively high” – a very welcome benefit in today’s labour market. “It is very much a talent market out there. And one of the differentiators that we find – one that new employees quote time and time again – is our corporate responsibility work and acting as a responsible business.”
“I make sure, with anything we do from the corporate responsibility point of view, I am involved. Then I know if it’s right for the business, but most importantly, if I do think it’s right for the business, I can talk about it really passionately.”