Is there enough support for skilled ex-offenders?

This week we’ve highlighted the story of Ossie, successful at interview last year for a great skilled role at Transport for London, and offered a permanent position last week. That’s got us thinking about the group of people who enter custody with some seriously good work experience, skills or qualifications under their belts.

Focus understandably mostly falls on those very high numbers of prisoners and people with convictions who have very few or no qualifications, and little or no work experience (likewise for non-offenders such as former NEET Lauren, whose success story we shared last week), and these groups are at the core of what we do. It’s right when they receive attention from the media and that organisations working within resettlement exist to address the challenges faced by these groups. Even the quickest Google search reveals devastatingly low levels of numeracy and literacy amongst the prison population, and we see in the news this week Gove’s talks of bringing powers back to prison Governors on how to make the best use of education within prisons.

But I’d like to open a conversation on the smaller, yet still significant, percentage of prisoners who have a job (under a third of the overall prison population) when they enter prison, but lose it during the time served. From research conducted by CIVITAS Institute for the Study of Civil Society, only one third of these individuals will keep their job. I’ve struggled to find out much more about this group. At A Fairer Chance we know the individuals we meet who fit this description and we understand the challenges they face, but nationwide, or across London, I’ve not been able to find any analyses that reveal anything about their success at returning to employment or difficulties they face. Given a prison population of just over 88,000 last week that suggests a possible 10,000 current, serving prisoners, plus ex-offenders released and now unemployed, who we hope will find work again. What support, guidance and awareness currently exists to make sure this happens?

Any gap in a CV is often a cause for true concern, and we see this across our clients; returning to work after having children, a return to work after a long period of sickness, during or after completing a sentence in custody, we see the psychological effects on clients whose confidence is often at rock bottom. They daren’t hope to find a job to match their skills and experience but are overqualified for entry-level positions, or they become dejected when their efforts to find work are met with rejections. Many employers will ask about criminal convictions and reject candidates on that basis. Opportunities to retrain are often apprenticeships confined to those under 24 years old. In other words, there are a host of barriers to overcome, and these can impact negatively.

Our business model is built on the firm understanding that there are people with convictions (either in custody, or released) who will bring talent to organisations, if the employers are shown that they can recruit safely and confidently from this particular pool. And we do this, as much as we possibly can, where and when we can secure the necessary funding (and sometimes even when we can’t). There are, of course, other great organisations also working on this agenda. Nacro, for example, who produced excellent, clear guidance for employers to make sense of the legislation regarding employing people with convictions, and pioneers and thought leaders such as Richard Branson, making the case for recruiting people with convictions. Similarly, for anyone leaving custody, they can seek the support of another excellent organisation, Unlock, who provide up to date information online or in person. And last week we highlighted the work of some great entrepreneurial initiatives setting examples for creative ways to get serving prisoners or people with convictions working.

Our frustration arises because although we have can have success with the likes of Ossie, we know there are many more people as capable, as motivated to work and who will bring as much to an employer, who we can’t help. Those who won’t fall under the radar of anyone who could refer them to us; those who won’t by luck submit their CV or application to an enlightened employer, or find out and therefore make use of a charity or business initiative. Remember too, prisoners don’t have access to the internet.

Is there enough support for ex-offenders who are ready when they leave prison to return to work? We plan to return to this and other key issues regarding ex-offender employment issues over the coming weeks, but we’d love to hear others’ views on this topic.