We were recently delighted to be invited by Prospects to attend a number of successful recruitment events across London prisons in February and March. Our staff attended HMP Brixton, HMYOI Feltham, HMP Belmarsh and HMP Wandsworth, meeting men due to be released within the coming weeks, to give them advice and guidance in their search for a job on release. Prospects are one of the largest providers of custodial IAG (information, advice and guidance), and we were pleased to meet with so many great organisations engaged by Prospects to work in partnership at each of these events, bringing welcome services, support and job opportunities for those in custody, either during their sentence, through the gate or on release. It was a great for us to get back into custody, to do what we do best, and we are grateful for Prospects for granting us this opportunity.
Our role at these events was to attend to discuss employment with prisoners and identify potential barriers they may face in their job search. We gave all the prisoners we met a tailored action plan, as in many instances, potentially the largest barriers that the men we met face way may be their lack of the correct documentation, i.e. a passport, long birth certificate or biometric card proving their right to work in the UK, or having their own bank account. We were also able to advise prisoners to fill in their CV gaps as, so often prisoners in custody prefer not to include the experience gained through work and qualification whilst inside prison, yet often these experiences are valuable in finding work on release, and demonstrate motivation and work ethic to potential employers.
Across all four events, many of the men we met did not have written letters of disclosures, and indeed for the most part, had not heard of disclosure. We have strong views on this subject as it is shown time and time again that a person with convictions starting work before or after the end of a custodial sentence, will have in consequence the best chance of avoiding reoffending. As such, campaigning has taken place in recent years to try to reduce employers asking for disclosure of convictions at the job application stage. There is obvious logic to this drive to allow employers to meet candidates and judge them on their merits, not on the category into which they fall, as an ‘ex-offender’. A Fairer Chance, however, takes a different approach to helping our beneficiaries to find work when it comes to this issue of disclosure.
Whilst we absolutely believe that our clients should not need to be treated differently because of their past, we do have confidence that sending our clients to meet sympathetic employers is a more sustainable approach. Whilst it is possible for candidates to apply for a position without the employer being aware of their convictions, what can happen in consequence is that the conversation arises further along the recruitment process, and may lead to a person with convictions facing the challenge of disclosing in person, without feeling prepared, or having had the support to be ready to do so. They may be subject to the “luck of the draw”, in terms of the attitudes of their interview panel or, further on, managing staff and colleagues. Sometimes, this leads to the accidental violation of people’s right to keep their disclosure limited to only those staff members within an organisation who genuinely need to know, with potential harmful impact on the day to day carrying out of the roles and responsibilities of their job.
One of our first priorities when we work with our beneficiaries with convictions is to ask to see their letter of disclosure, and if they don’t have one, to help them to prepare one. We see first-hand the enormous psychological benefits of going through this process. Whilst it can be challenging to have to focus back on the past and to discuss the circumstances that led to offences, it can also be cathartic, and making a commitment in writing to turning their life around for the better is incredibly rewarding and motivating. In fact, going in to interview with a good disclosure letter is an opportunity for a candidate to show themselves in a positive light to an employer, not open to everyone, and may even set the candidate ahead! And with regard to the protection of employers and the safeguarding of victims in the community, we can be sensitive to any issues when putting candidates forward for interview.
As such, at these recent events we discussed disclosure with the men we met, and invited them to contact us on release for our disclosure guidance, if they had not yet been offered an opportunity to write a letter of disclosure by an organisation within, or shortly after leaving prison. Due to the nature of funding for successful job outcomes for people with convictions, we were unable to guarantee we could help those who we met across the four events, but should they be released to an area in which we have funding arrangements, we hope to meet with them and link them with our enlightened employers.