Does your organisation employ ex-offenders? If not, let 2021 be the year to change your perception of people with a criminal record, and reap the benefits of diversifying your recruitment process.
Towards the end of 2020, the Ministry of Justice changed legislation to remove some of the barriers to employment for ex-offenders. The new law reduces the length of time that certain criminal convictions need to be disclosed on job applications. The change is a welcome step to increasing employment rates for ex-offenders. Yet there is still a huge stigma around employing people with a criminal record; just 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release. If real change is going to happen, it needs to take place in the boardroom, not the courtroom.
Social responsibility versus risk
According to the Department for Work & Pensions, 75% of employers discriminate against applicants because of a criminal record, and 50% of employers say they would not recruit people with a conviction.
The issue is that our criminal justice system exists to hold people to account for their actions; not employers, the media or those in wider society. If we can’t forgive the people who break our laws, rehabilitate and accept them back into our communities once they’ve served their sentence, what is the point of having a criminal justice system at all? And what does it say about our society? Don’t we all have a responsibility to support those who have made mistakes and are looking to rebuild their lives?
But why should employers be the ones to shoulder the risk and forgive and forget? Do they really have a social responsibility to do so? Isn’t it easier to just recruit job seekers without criminal convictions? Firstly, let’s assess whether employing someone with a criminal record is even a risk at all.
Diversity, loyalty and performance: the benefits of recruiting ex-offenders
Many companies worry that employing someone with a criminal record means bringing a violent or untrustworthy person into their business, but the reality is that only 8 per cent of people sentenced for a crime every year actually go to prison and around half of all criminal convictions are for driving offences. In fact, one in three men and almost one in ten women aged under 53 in the UK have a criminal record. That’s around 11 million people who deserve a second chance.
Research into ex-offenders performance at work provides employers with plenty of reassurance. 86% of employers of ex-offenders rate them as good at their jobs, and 92% say that employing ex-offenders has helped to diversify their recruitment. This has in turn enhanced their reputation, and helped them to win new contracts.
The benefits of employing ex-offenders include:
Making a difference
Reoffending currently costs the UK taxpayer £15 billion a year, but studies show that getting a job when you leave prison significantly reduces the chance of reoffending. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 81% of people think that businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society. Gerry Keogh, founder of Unlock, a charity supporting people who are facing stigma and obstacles because they have a criminal record, comments: “Rehabilitation through employability is a huge factor in reducing reoffending rates and this benefits society as a whole, as well as individual organisations and ex-offenders.”
Meanwhile, Emma Wilson, Deputy Director of Operations at charity, Apex Scotland, which helps ex-offenders develop new skills and secure employment, adds: “There is huge misunderstanding and knowledge gaps around risk and the recruitment of people with convictions, primarily around the relevance of the conviction to the job at hand. This means that employers miss out on tapping into a significant cross section of the skilled working age population. Increasingly, there is the requirement for supported businesses such as Apex's All Cleaned Up, to take the initial perceived risk by offering work experience opportunities and provide an essential pathway to sustained and meaningful employment.
“It’s heart-breaking when you have an individual in front of you who is determined to turn their lives around, but nobody will give them a chance. Some employers worry that people who have been in prison won’t be honest or trustworthy and might reoffend again. In actual fact people with convictions are often loyal, hard-working and grateful for the opportunity to have a second chance.”
Who's doing it well?
From SMEs to big blue-chip companies, there are plenty of success stories from organisations recruiting ex-offenders and reaping the rewards of diversifying recruitment. One of the UK’s largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK is Timpson, where approximately 10% of its workforce is made up of people who have criminal convictions. On its website, Timpson states: “We believe in giving people a second chance. We don’t judge people on what they have done in the past, preferring instead to focus on what they can do in the future…. To put it simply, recruiting ex-offenders has been great for our business.”
Retailer Halfords has also seen it’s Drake Hall prison training project go from strength-to-strength. Group People Director, Jonathan Crookall, explained to Retail Gazette: “We believe that projects like Drake Hall are a real win-win for businesses and local communities alike…. We’re not just talking about prisoners, we’re talking about people who have a huge amount of potential and skills, and above all, it’s about changing people’s lives.”
What can you do?
Gerry Keogh from Unlock believes that one of the most important things is that employers recruit ex-offenders because they are the right person for the job, not because it helps meet their corporate responsibility targets. He explains: “Lots of companies claim to be working with ex-offenders, but there are plenty of others who do so and don’t declare it. Employing ex-offenders doesn’t have to be part of your business model, but you should be looking at some of the barriers to employment in your recruitment process and helping disadvantaged individuals - including ex-offenders or people with learning and physical disabilities - to move past them. When it comes to ex-offenders it’s about changing the narrative and recognising that lots of people with a past conviction have the skills you need and really want to move on with their lives and work for you. If you can give them a chance, help them to grow their confidence and self-belief and develop their skills, you might just find they make some of the best performing and most loyal employees.”
Here are six things your organisation can do to help support offenders into employment:
There are millions of UK citizens who are burdened with heavy weight of a criminal conviction which threatens to crush their entire future. We all have a responsibility to ensure that people who make mistakes are not defined by them for the rest of their lives. But more than that, helping ex-offenders back into employment is not just about social impact; it’s about tapping into a diverse pool of talent and skills that shouldn’t go to waste, and has the potential to enrich your team and improve performance.