Following the early release from their respective prisons of ex-cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his former wife Vicky Pryce, my thoughts turned to the employment of ex-offenders. Nick Clegg always said he wanted Chris Huhne back. Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce were convicted of perverting the course of justice after she agreed to take speeding points for him. In the great scheme of things it is a fairly minor offence.
In a survey (Employers’ Perception of Best Practice in Prison Education: CfBT Education Trust) carried out in 2011, more than half of the employers surveyed said they consider that they have an important role to play in helping ex-offenders back into the workplace. Around a third of the employers had employed an ex-offender.
Employers recognise that if offenders are able to obtain employment they are less likely to re-offend, so there is a moral duty to give this proper consideration. But prisons can also be a source of talent, particular with regard to accessing technical skills which are in short supply elsewhere. Interestingly, many of the survey respondents also reported that ex-offenders have a very positive attitude in the workplace, another highly desirable element.
The swell of approval for the idea has been gathering momentum over the last few years. In a letter to the FT in 2011, Richard Branson and seven other chief executives, recommended that more companies employ people with a criminal record. "Our experience shows that people from prison, if properly selected, will prove to be just as reliable as recruits who come from elsewhere. It is their personality that matters most," they wrote.
The letter went on to say that prisons were harbouring "a large number of potential superstars who get ignored by employers because of their criminal record. It makes sense for UK companies to recruit these individuals and to make use of their skills and enthusiasm."
James Timpson, the managing director of the Timpson shoe-repair chain has worked closely with organisations like Working Chance, an organisation which helps female ex-offenders find work. He says of the experience “Of all the people we have recruited into the Timpson business, the highest success rate has been from serving women offenders.”
The Government announced plans earlier this year to incentivise employers who hire ex-offenders. If introduced a payment of £5,600 would be made to employers who recruit ex-offenders from the Work Programme. This would be subject to the recruit staying with the employer for more than two years.
The business case is a good one. We are all looking for talent and lack of good skills can out a brake on what we achieve. Sir Richard’s advice to small businesses with few employees is that many people – including ex-offenders – who are given the opportunity to work in positions above their normal expectations, excel. He is quoted as saying "I've had people at Virgin who have been caught stealing and I've given them a second chance. We had one kid who was taking albums sent to us by record companies and selling them to a secondhand record shop. By giving him a second chance he became one of the best employees we ever had.”
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