Would you hire an ex offender?

This topic came up about a year or so ago in one of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) LinkedIn groups, most said it depended on what they had done, some said they really didn’t want a potential new employee who had previous for violence as they may pose a risk to existing employees.

This year Business In The Community (BITC) has launched a campaign called “Ban the box!”. The campaign is about removing the box that you see on most application forms where a criminal conviction can be declared. More about the campaign can be found by following the link below.

A bit of hidden personal history about me, when I was 20 I joined my local police force as a volunteer police officer (Special Constable), I spent three and half brilliant years working with some of the most amazing people, in that time I saw a lot of unpleasant stuff, dealing with fatalities to hardcore violent criminals, in May 1991 I was awarded a commendation and I was soon moving to pastures new. I’ve never had trouble with arresting someone who had done wrong and I have no sympathy for those sent to prison, Do the crime then be prepared to do the time.

A few years ago I landed a temporary job working for HM Prison Service working at a Young Offenders Institute (HMYOI) this wasn’t an HR role but was working within the Estates Management Team, once I had gained security clearance I was allowed more access not only to site but also to two adult prisons that the team looked after.

Young Offenders are classed as being between the ages of 18 and 20 (they can be kept there until they are 22), although two YOI’s can accept young offenders as young as 15. Below this age, young people are the responsibility of local authority secure accommodation. Young Offenders Institutes in some ways follow the same regime as adult prisons but the differences being that Young Offenders have their own rooms which are locked in the same manner as adult prisons, they are also required to have a set number of hours a week set aside to education, one important feature of YOI’s is that they have sports facilities which has often led to criticism from the national tabloid press that YOI’s are too soft.

Adult Prisons are a totally different ball game, overcrowding, being locked up for hours during the day, limited exercise, danger of being assaulted by another inmate, in my mind these places are pretty grim but those that have been sentenced to serve their time in prison deserve punishment, this is the way society works.

A few years later I was interviewing candidates for roles working on a production line in a factory, one person, I remember well, he had declared criminal convictions and admitted to me that he had been in trouble with the police since he was 10, but now 10 years later and having had a  short custodial sentence he wanted a fresh start and keep out of trouble. A regular paid job would help him move with his life and leave crime and trouble well behind. You could actually see the desperation in his eyes.

Unfortunately, the decision to hire was taken out of my hands but it suddenly made me realise that a simple thing like having a job can dramatically change a person’s life for the better and take them away from committing more crime.

Recently I saw a post by Jason on a website belonging to Site Visibility, where he joined ten other leaders from Business in the Community (BITC) member companies on the Prince of Wales’ “Seeing is Believing” visit organized by BITC to HMP Brixton (category C prison). He learned how employment holds the key to reducing the £11bn annual cost of re-offending in the UK .

In Jasons post he quotes BITC figures which make you stop and think:

Consider these facts from BITC:

There are 85,000 people in prison in the UK today. Only 43 of these people will never be released, meaning that 99.95% of the prison population will need to resettle back into the community.
17% of the UK population between the ages of 18 and 52 has a criminal conviction more serious than a driving offence.
Currently, more than one in five employment benefits claimants have a criminal conviction.
60% of short-term prisoners re-offend within a year of release.
Re-offending costs UK approximately £11bn per year
Employment reduces the likelihood of re-offending by up to 50%.

So it is in all our interests to see re-offending reduced so there is less burden on public/taxpayer money, money which could be spent better elsewhere. Obviously, there are some jobs that require Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS – replaced CRB) vetting, but this post isn’t about such job roles.

What’s more, is there a business case for employers to consider?

Well, there is much talk about how many businesses are finding it more difficult to recruit talented and enthusiastic people to help drive their growth. Again as Jason says in his post, there is no average prisoner/ex-offender, they can look and blend in with any of us, Maybe just maybe that person may be a unique talent that your company/organisation needs. Anybody who is not working is a strain on the UK economy, anyone taken off the dole queue is better for this country because they will be contributing to tax and National Insurance and to their local economy, which is good for you and good for me.

Remember an ex-offender has already been punished, it is no one else’s job to add to this, if an ex-offender does owe society anything then it is to get into the working population and start contributing.

What do you think?

You can read Jason’s blog here: http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/blog/2014/04/02/ive-prison-ive-changed-honest-hire-ex-offender-work-business/

Business In The Community’s “Ban the Box” campaign can be found here: http://www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/ban-box/why-should-we-ban-box

You may also be interested in the blog by Dianah Worman OBE, CIPD Diversity Adviser,  Pride and prejudice in the workplace: recruiting ex-offenders http://www.cipd.co.uk/blogs/cipdbloggers/b/public_policy_blog1/archive/2013/12/19/pride-and-prejudice-in-the-workplace-recruiting-ex-offenders.aspx

Footnote: November 2016

Virgin Trains to recruit from prisons

Virgin Trains who have the West Coast Mainline (WCML) franchise for running trains between London and Scotland has doubled the number of ex-offenders it employs. The company has actively been recruiting from this source since 2013.

The train operator has held a recruitment fair at HMP Addiewell in Scotland at the beginning of November 2016 and has more planned across the UK every three months.

They said they wanted to end the “revolving door syndrome” of re-offending (60% of short-term prisoners re-offend within a year of release). Virgin Trains said it was encouraging other companies to take part.

Kathryn Wildman, who leads recruitment on the West Coast line, said going into prisons had proved a successful way of finding “talented candidates” for jobs in the company.
She said: “This isn’t just about helping society and giving people a chance to turn their lives around. It’s hiring the best people no matter what their background is.
“We’d urge other employers who might be thinking about this to give it a go.”
Virgin Trains has established partnerships with HM Prison Service, the Scottish Prison Service and private prison operators to work with inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences.

Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, said: “Supporting people into work when they come out of custody is an essential part of their reintegration, and helps to reduce the chances of them offending again.

“We are working with the public sector, including the Scottish Prison Service, and private businesses to make it easier for people with convictions to find employment.
“Virgin Trains are very supportive of this work and I am delighted to hear of this latest partnership with HMP Addiewell to tackle the barriers which prevent people from turning their lives around.”


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HR Professional, interests include HR Metrics, Workforce Analytics

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