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How life-changing employment is giving people with convictions a second chance

Key insight 20 April 2022

Less than one in five ex-offenders manage to get a job within one year of their release from prison, according to Ministry of Justice figures.*

As the squeeze on skills and labour shortages extend to more and more sectors, from construction and logistics to hospitality, more employers are recognising the benefits of supporting those with convictions back into the workplace.

Nick Grindley, Director of Maidstone-based Konnect Recruit, which recruits for the construction industry across South-East England has been working with the Seetec Group for several years, explains:

“Originally, I was looking for ways to combat staff and candidate shortages. I realised by helping ex-offenders to get back to work that everyone’s a winner. Over time, employers have become more and more open to employing people with convictions – they realise sometimes they get the best workers; they are more inclined to be reliable and put in the hard graft because they don’t want to go back inside.

“We’re like a stepping stone, when you speak to ex-offenders, they’re often just normal people that have made a silly mistake. We help to bring them back into the community and get their lives back on track and that is really rewarding.”

The benefits to individuals are life-changing. John Daynes, 40, from Strood, Kent, grew into an angry and confused teenager after several childhood years in foster care after his mother suffered life-changing injuries in a car accident.

After his first experience of a young offenders’ institution at just 14, his life spiralled into drug addiction, homelessness and crime.

John explained: “I was trying to be a hard man, rebelling, hanging around with older people. I was consumed by violence and crime and was in and out of prison until the age of 31.”

It was when he started volunteering at a homeless centre run by the charity Caring Hands that his journey of rehabilitation began, leading to a job with the frozen ready-meals business Cook.

“They invested in me, gave me a chance and loved me, I became part of the family,” he explained. “It’s down to people believing in me, giving up their time for me and teaching me to realise there are better ways. They don’t judge you, they really help you to identify the potential within yourself – they empowered me to take responsibility.”

Seven-and-a-half years later, John is married with a three-year-old son and works for Cook’s RAW Talent programme which supports people with convictions, addictions or without secure housing to get back on their feet.

As a B-Corporation certified business, Cook aims to be a force for good in society as Head of RAW Talent Annie Gale explains: “We support people with barriers into employment with a meaningful route into work – we work closely with partners like Interventions Alliance to build a strong support system for individuals before they arrive.

“Then we provide a buddy until they are settled. Most of our people come into an entry-level role, but there are lots of progression opportunities. Two of the people who run our kitchens started in entry level roles.”

Karen, also an ex-offender, runs a consultancy which supports those with convictions back into employment. She works with several prisons and recognises that, by helping people to regain their self-esteem and confidence, they are more likely to retain employment and less likely to re-offend.

Having served a short custodial sentence herself, more than ten years ago for trading while insolvent, after a business she ran got into financial difficulties, Karen understands better than most the importance of helping people prepare and find employment at the end of their sentence.

Working with Interventions Alliance to deliver education, training and employment opportunities to ex-offenders across the South-East, Karen said: “I realised there was a real need for someone like me. Many of the people who end up in prison have had no stability in their life, often a lack of education or they have suffered abuse and have very little support. If somebody can connect with that person to help them to believe in themselves and believe that someone will believe in them, its life changing.

“Many ex-offenders we support have never worked, but most only need a helping hand and a willing employer.

“I tell ex-offenders my story, the fact I’ve been where they are helps them to relate to me. We don’t dwell on their offences; we look at where they are now and what options there are. People tell me it is the first time they have felt positive about the future, I can give them hope.”

Suki Binning, Interventions Alliance’s Executive Director for Justice, Social Care and Skills said: “Everyone has a past, but everyone deserves a future. We work with so many dedicated and socially aware businesses that embrace people with convictions. By delivering targeted support, we can help to rebuild lives and support individuals to re-integrated into their families and communities. As well as huge benefits to the individual, employment also benefits society by reducing the risk of re-offending whilst supporting businesses and economic growth.”

*Ministry of Justice figures about employment of ex-offenders.