Looking beyond the conviction – should we hire ex prisoners?

An elderly woman's hand holds the mesh of an iron fence. The old man is locked up and cannot get out. Quarantine measures prohibit leaving the house. A sprout grows on the right.

We’re all convinced about the power of equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives. We know that businesses with a strong ED&I policy and activities that promote diversity and inclusion are more creative, more innovative, and see better economic returns than those without.

But what do we really mean by hiring a more diverse workforce? Is it just looking at those from a different university to the majority, or trying to increase female representation – both worthy causes – or could we look even wider to that? To even, ex prisoners and those in the criminal justice system.

Economic benefits

Harnessing potential from people in the criminal justice system could reap rewards for economic growth and social equity. Ex-offenders who get a job after prison are up to 9 percentage points less likely to reoffend – and given that reoffending currently costs the UK taxpayer £15 billion a year it’s a worthwhile investment. The workplace can provide vital social interaction and support networks, which are crucial for maintaining wellbeing and preventing reoffending.

One in ten (10%) people are in PAYE employment six weeks after leaving prison. After six months, the figure rises to around one in seven (14%). These look like promising figures, but when we compare to the employment rate of 75.5% nationwide, we can see it’s low.

Yet businesses could hugely benefit from widening their resourcing pool to include those who have been in prison.

Educating for the future

Many prisons have robust education programmes. We’ve worked in many providing training and education, and have seen results to be proud of. A few highlights include:

  • 100% pass rate of a BTEC in Media at HMP Downview and 4 graduates of the programme went on to work in national organisations, and participants did research for BBC Woman’s Hour
  • 50% from the women’s prison HMP Downview programme studying undergrad degrees
  • Only 21% who were involved in Prison Radio at HMP Wandsworth reoffended, compared to national average of 61% reoffending within 2 years, and 90% students given a placement went on to further training or employment 

Improving equity

People from lower socioeconomic groups or Black and ethnic minority groups are hugely overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population, 21,537 people, are from a minority ethnic group – 9,000 more than would be proportionately representative of the British population. Those from the lowest socioeconomic percentiles are ten times more likely to end up in prison than wealthier counterparts. By not offering these people jobs, we are perpetuating stigmas that undermine inequalities. 

The hiring mindset

It all comes down to looking for aptitude and skills, rather than at a list of misdemeanours. We should be considering what training and education an individual might have had in prison. We should be looking at their commitment to learning and pursuing goals, even when faced by adversity and challenges. We should consider their passion and enthusiasm for a life outside of crime, focused on the future not the past. 

It’s not about doing a good deed by society. It can have huge economic and business benefits. Research finds that the vast majority (86%) of employers of ex-offenders rate them as good at their jobs. Timpson is one of the UK’s largest employers of ex-offenders and approximately 10% of its workforce has criminal convictions. And we all know how great their customer service is. There is evidence that when ex-offenders are given a chance, they often exhibit high levels of loyalty and tend to stay longer with the employer, reducing turnover rates. It’s also good for brand and aligns with ESG and CSR initiatives, demonstrating a company’s commitment to inclusive employment and social reintegration.

We need to look beyond easy ED&I, or easy recruitment, and really think about what a broad representation of society looks like, and harnessing the potential that exists within it, in order to succeed as a business – and as a society.

About the author

Ann Summerhayes is CEO of Inside Job Productionsan award-winning film production company, established in 2006. We create high-quality, thought provoking content that helps our clients communicate with their audience and customers. Whether it’s film, animation, photography, audio or digital presentations, IJP has a team of experienced, creative professionals ready to work with you, to bring your ideas to life. We work with the world’s largest corporations and the UK’s smaller charities. We have a social impact that creates job opportunities and changes people’s lives for the better. As a social enterprise, we believe that business can be done differently without ever compromising on quality. Inside Job Productions deliver high quality training and employment programmes for people who are marginalised in society, often as a result of mental health. Our social impact work is supported by the corporates and charities who commission us to create films in all genres and styles that meet their business needs at the same time as delivering on ESG and CSR objectives. Find out more at www.insidejobproductions.co.uk

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