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Getting ex-offenders back into work

28 Jun 2019 By Keith Rosser

Employers have an immense responsibility when it comes to changing the negative stigma attached to hiring an ex-offender, argues Keith Rosser

It was recently announced that an increased number of inmates in England and Wales will be able to leave prison for a day or overnight in order to take jobs. This move is intended to boost prisoners’ job prospects.

A step in the right direction indeed. This government decision was implemented to build on an already existing work placement scheme which creates partnerships between prisons and employers in an effort to reduce re-offending, which at present costs society an estimated £15 billion per year. I condone businesses such as Pret a Manger and Greene King who have elected to participate.

In order for successful reintegration, allowing prisoners who are coming close to the end of their sentence to spend time in the community is crucial. This will allow them to gain qualifications, learn new skills and secure valuable experience. It will also allow them to build a network that can help find them full-time employment following their sentence. 

This and Sajid Javid’s announcement in April, stating that ex-offenders could keep certain records from employers, are improving the opportunities for ex-offenders to find their way back into employment. While I support the announcement, it is, however, a shame that UK businesses are not better equipped to deal with disclosure sensitively and proportionately. What is really needed is better guidance and support for employers

At present, when a sentence has been completed, employers can ask anyone, in whichever job they are applying for, to disclose details solely on unspent convictions. Within the healthcare and education industries however, potential employees must disclose any and all criminal records. In practice, and because requirements are often unclear, employers frequently ask for more detail than they should, leading prospective employees to disclose more than is needed or putting them off applying in the first place. 

Employers have an immense responsibility when it comes to changing the negative stigma attached to hiring an offender or ex-offender. With the increased use of technology, most job applications are completed online and declaring any sort of criminal history occurs at a very early and impersonal stage – this consciously or unconsciously gives businesses and potential employers an easy excuse to move on to the next application and potentially means they miss out on great talent and the person best equipped for the job.

With such a negative stigma attached to having a criminal record, ex-offenders experience great difficulty in finding work. Employers have stated that they are concerned around the perceived risk of hiring these individuals, but if businesses are made to educate themselves around the positives of hiring ex-offenders, this will have a huge impact on breaking the negative associations when it comes to hiring people with criminal backgrounds. A great initiative, which recently gained Ministerial endorsement, has been launched by Scottish Government for businesses in Scotland. ‘Release Scotland’ offers support to employers and represents the voice of businesses in this debate.

For ex-offenders, the opportunity to work can have life-changing consequences. Additionally, people with past convictions are often more dedicated and committed to their employer as a result of being given the opportunity in the first place. It is incredibly important that the government and businesses give ex-offenders a second chance and an opportunity to get their lives back into a positive place. 

Though there are many proposed changes being considered for implementation, the government can do more by looking to the recruitment industry as a facilitator for people with past convictions to find work. At REED, we have employed over 8,000 people with past convictions. The recruitment sector operates across various industries and is best placed to understand these candidates’ needs when it comes to getting them back into work. 

Businesses, recruitment agencies and the government all have a responsibility in helping people with criminal convictions find a job. With plans to remove short custodial sentences likely to put more people with convictions into the jobs market, there is an even greater pressure for these institutions to act and give these individuals a helping hand.

Keith Rosser is director of screening and compliance services at REED Specialist Recruitment

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