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Employing prisoners and ex-offenders: UK’s experience

By December 22, 2020 No Comments

A third of businesses state that they are unable to address skills gaps in their workforce, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Thinking outside the box about recruitment and exploring new talent pools can help overcome such challenges.

The New Futures Network (NFN) is a specialist part of the prison service that brokers partnerships between prisons and employers. They will help you to identify the best option for your organisation and put you in touch with similar businesses who are already working with the prison service.

There are a range of ways to get involved:

Opportunites for serving prisoners

Employers can set up training and production facilities in a dedicated space within the prison estate. Workshops run by external organisations benefit from a dedicated workforce made up of serving prisoners. NFN will work with you to find out what will suit your business needs. This also helps prisoners gain valuable skills and qualifications which will increase their likelihood of securing employment after release.

Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL)

Release on Temporary Licence, or ROTL, is a scheme, which allows risk-assessed prisoners who are within two years of release to work while on day release from prison. This can be for a full working week or part-time. It allows you to offer training and work experience to a serving prisoner while you assess if they are right for your business, before possibly offering them a job on their release.

Employment on release

Upon release, individuals can work and have full employee rights. The New Futures Network can help you arrange interviews with prospective candidates before they are released, so you can choose the best person for your business.

Over 400 businesses and government departments are providing employment opportunities to serving prisoners within industries workshops, ROTL placements and employment of prison leavers.

Reasons to work with prisoners and ex-offenders

Working with prisoners and ex-offenders has a whole range of benefits, including:

Reducing initial recruitment and job advertising costs

The CIPD has calculated that filling the average non-managerial vacancy costs around £2,000. Opening recruitment up to prisoners and ex-offenders can help reduce overheads such as advertising as prisons can offer interview access to candidates. The time and cost of recruiting can be overcome by tapping into this readily available talent pool.

Diversity, inclusion and social responsibility

Over two fifths of employers say hiring ex-offenders has increased the diversity of their employees. It has also been a factor in helping businesses to become more socially responsible. Actively hiring former prisoners is proven to reduce reoffending. Most offenders want the opportunity to turn their backs on crime and having a job helps them get their lives back on track.

Resolving skills shortages

A third of organisations state that they are unable to address skills gaps, which is likely to have a knock-on impact on productivity and performance. Many prisons teach a variety of industry level skills, with prisoners achieving professional qualifications. Employers can tap into this talent pool to resolve skills shortages, as well as helping prisoners and ex-offenders get their lives back on track.

Reducing staff absence

The biggest concern of employers around hiring ex-offenders is a worry that they may not be trustworthy. However, over 80% of employers of ex-offenders have positively rated their reliability, motivation, attendance and performance.

Increasing staff retention

Evidence from employers such as Marks & Spencer shows that ex-offenders place a higher value on having a job because of a desire to stay out of prison. This often means ex-offenders have higher levels of loyalty and retention, which keeps institutional knowledge within your business.

  • Only 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release
  • 3 out of 4 people would be comfortable buying from a business that employs ex-offenders
  • Ex-offenders who get a job after prison are up to 9 percentage points less likely to reoffend
  • 81% of people think that businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society
  • 86% of employers of ex-offenders rate them as good at their job
  • 92% of employers say diverse recruitment has enhanced their reputation, helping them win new contracts

Hear from businesses already working with prisoners and ex-offenders

Do ex-offenders have any qualifications or the skills needed to work?

The guys on-site, they are just like everybody else that we come across as an employer. We find they come with a variety of skills and we ensure they are then given the correct training so they can go to work and join in with the team.

Claire Coombs, Development Manager, Keltbray

Will they turn up for work if I take a chance on them?

We have found that the level of retention of our graduates from the [prison] academy is higher than the level of retention of our normal employed sales floor workers.

Andy McBride, Head of Resourcing and People Shared Services, Halfords

Can I really rely on offenders to be part of my workforce?

Pret has been working with both Working Chance and Novus for several years to take ex-offenders on to our Rising Stars Programme. We see this as an excellent talent pool with many Rising Stars enjoying a great career within Pret.

Nicki Fisher, Head of the Pret Foundation Trust, Pret A Manger

Why should businesses employ ex-offenders?

We’ve started working with ex-offenders and people coming towards the end of their sentence because it allows us to secure a pipeline of talent coming into our business, at the same time as helping people start again as they leave prison. In the hospitality industry there is a nationwide shortage of kitchen staff – kitchen managers and chefs particularly – that we at Greene King are not immune to.

Greg Sage, Spokesperson, Greene King

Ex-offender Leigh

I was on the Halfords academy at HMP Drakehall and learnt how to repair a bike, give great customer service. I also learnt planning and resourcing skills ordering bike parts. I now work at Halfords as part of their customer and bike repair team.

Leigh, former prisoner, now Halfords colleague

Ex-offender Tyler

In prison I got my level 2 catering course in HMP Glen Parva, I learnt to cook and run a kitchen. I’m now a chef in a busy pub kitchen working for Greene King.

Tyler, Former prisoner, now Greene King employee.



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