Explode the myths around employing ex-offenders
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How do they compare?
When given a chance, ex-offenders not only perform well in employment but often exceed their employers' expectations. They bring a positive attitude to the workplace, are reliable and work well in a team environment. They value the opportunity to be at work. Because it is so hard for them to find work, they have more to lose from failing in a job than anyone else. One employer found that staff turnover dropped and absenteeism reduced as a result of employing ex-offenders. They encouraged other staff to match their excellent attendance record.
Look beyond the stereotype and you will find a loyal, hard-working and fully engaged employee, who is just right for your organisation. Adding diversity to your workforce not only provides financial benefits, but also demonstrates Equal Opportunity in action and shows your commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, significantly contributing to reducing reoffending.
Won't it damage the company image?
There is no obligation for employers to publicise ex-offender friendly recruitment policies. As those at the Hardman Directory put it, "loads of employers regularly recruit people with convictions, it's just that they simply don't shout from the rooftops about it".
That said, many companies who employ ex-offenders and chose to publicise it say that it has a positive impact on their reputation. Marks & Spencer report that hiring ex-offenders has increased both morale and motivation in their staff, who say they are proud to work for an organisation offering people a second chance to get back on track. In a poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development 65% of organisations who promote the employment of ex-offenders say that it has had a positive effect on their company image. Promoting that your business stands for fairness, equality and community cohesion can generate positive media coverage.
Are they likely to reoffend?
The single most important factor in preventing reoffending is employment. Almost half of all adult offenders released from custody re-offend within a year. But evidence shows that having a job has been proven to reduce re-offending by 25-33%.
97% of offenders express a desire to cease offending and given a chance, many people with convictions go on to live happy and fulfilling lives, contributing to their communities.
When you put your faith in a person with convictions you give them a renewed sense of self-respect. Employment restores dignity and offers an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family, decreasing dependency on benefits and social housing. Sustainable employment makes people less likely to relapse into old patterns of destructive behaviour and breaks the cycle of offending.
In fact, a CIPD survey showed that employers reported that reoffending when in employment was very rare. With only 8 instances of reoffending reported by a total of 144 HR professionals who have knowingly employed ex-offenders, this underlies the contribution getting a job can make to reducing reoffending.
Who has done this before?
Companies large and small employ ex-offenders. Ex-offenders have a largely negative reputation. This is in stark contrast to the positive impressions left on companies who have recruited ex-offenders and integrated them into their workforce. Some of our best known brands such as B&Q, Morrison Utility Services and Marks & Spencer have excellent reputations and employ ex-offenders.
Indeed, the 'Ban the Box' campaign, which calls on employers to create fair opportunities for competition by removing the tick box for a criminal record from application forms, currently has 74 participating employers. This number includes, amongst others, the entire Civil Service and International Law Firm Freshfields, with a further 35 companies actively exploring the implementation of Ban the Box within their workforce. Click here for a full list.
Is there financial support available?
An individual leaving prison can seek financial support from a diverse range of sources. Financial support is available, for example, to buy equipment, household goods and clothing for interviews as well as for professional and career development and general welfare.
The Hardman Directory is a useful resource to consult for information on projects which support offenders and ex-offenders. Companies looking to train or employ ex-offenders should familiarise themselves with the funding streams available in their locality.
Another way to ensure the individual has financial support is to employ via social enterprises, such as Blue Sky, Working Chance and BounceBack Project, as they offer financial support for things such as travel, trainings and in some cases even housing.
What kinds of offence?
There are a limited number of very serious offences which could ban people from working with children and/or vulnerable people. For other ex-offenders, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 means that after a certain number of years, employers are not entitled to know about their criminal records. Where criminal records do need to be disclosed to employers, it is very often down to the discretion of the employer to decide whether or not to employ that individual. The Ministry of Justice says that "even where employers are entitled to ask for a criminal record check, knowledge of a conviction, spent or unspent, should not act as an automatic barrier to employment."
The BiTC's practical guide for employers, 'Fair recruitment of people with criminal convictions', provides useful information on the legal, regulatory and contractual implications of employing someone with a criminal record. Hiring ex-offenders is not about preferential treatment or positive discrimination. It is about hiring the best possible person for any give role within your organisation. Whether or not that person has a criminal conviction will be completely irrelevant in the vast majority of cases.
Are they trustworthy?
Only 7% of employers report a negative experience with ex-offenders. Most encounter people who are grateful for the opportunity to work and give 110%. They often work harder than others to prove that they are reliable. They have made a mistake and are now trying to prove themselves and rebuild trust. Someone convicted of drug trafficking is no more likely to commit petty theft than anyone else within your company. Most prejudice is based on short-sighted stereotypes. Employment is the number one factor in reducing re-offending.
How do I get people with technical skills?
There are a number of initiatives that work in prisons to teach technical skills - from construction and baking to cabinet-making and sewing. Search through our Directory, by skill, to find charities and social enterprises that are delivering the skills and training that your company needs.
How do I get people with soft skills?
Many employers perceive ex-offenders as not having soft skills, such as honesty or reliability These perceptions are challenged by the actual experience of taking on an ex-offender. Employers who have worked with ex-offenders report that they have a positive and pro-active approach to work, are willing to attempt new tasks and develop good working relationships with both colleagues and managers.
Will they have living support?
Many prisoners face challenges maintaining tenancies from within prison and are released without secure accommodation. Although it is possible to claim housing benefit and other benefits on release, the public housing services that councils provide vary locally and unless the individual is particularly vulnerable, it may be difficult to access local authority housing for some time. Sustained employment provides the best opportunity for ex-offenders to buy or rent their own property sustainably and reduce their dependency on social housing, increasing both confidence and security, which in turn reduces the likelihood of re-offending.
There are also a number of charities and social organisations which offer housing support for ex-offenders at risk of homelessness. St Martin in the Fields, for example, offers one-off grants to those in need of help putting together a deposit for a more permanent home. Whilst Vision Housing, which has contracts with eleven local authorities and the London Probation Trust, provides ongoing support and helps people find decent homes in the private rented sector upon release.
Who can help me with the recruiting process?
There are a number of organisations, such as those featured in our Directory, that can help you manage the process and the perceived risk associated with recruiting ex-offenders.
Many other charities, including Working Chance, Blue Sky and the St Giles Trust support the rehabilitation of ex-offenders and can give employers support and guidance when working with ex-offenders.
Can I get guidance for interviewing?
As with recruitment, there are charities, such as Nacro, which provide free expert advice to help employers considering equal opportunity interviewing of those with a criminal record. There are also a number of guidance documents and toolkits available on the BiTC website which offer practical step-by-step guides.
Will it cause problems amongst my staff?
In a recent study carried out by Business in the Community, the 134 organisation that took part recorded positive experience with ex-offenders and 86% say that they settle into work well with colleagues and 82% say they perform well.
I need ongoing in-work support
When employing an ex-offender, any social organisation through which you recruited your new employee will likely have a team of caseworkers who will be able to offer in-work support relating to the individual.
How can I convince my team/board/HR?
From a recruitment policy perspective, internal buy-in is key to success. As demonstrated by Timpson, Boots and other ex-offender friendly employers, convincing board members and HR teams is a wholly achievable goal. There is a large, and ever-growing, body of evidence to draw upon when explaining both the social and the business case for not excluding ex-offenders from your workforce; communicating this effectively is crucial.
Research shows that organising a visit to a prison, allowing people to meet ex-offenders and understand for themselves the value that they can bring to the business to be one of the most effective methods of achieving company buy-in. BiTC runs a 'Seeing is Believing' programme of visits for senior leaders which has been particularly successful. Additionally, many charitable organisations, such as BounceBack Project or Working Chance, working with ex-offenders, deliver presentations to companies who are considering adopting equal opportunity policies.
From an individual perspective, however, it is not obligatory to share your new employee's criminal history with other members of the team unless there are issues with safeguarding. As an employer, in discussion with your employee, you are free to decide that protecting privacy and offering a clean slate is the most appropriate form of action.
Is there a support group/network of employers?
As more employers recognise the advantages of having fully inclusive recruitment policies, networks of 'friendly' employers are developing.
The Reducing Re-offending through Employment Network, for example, was established in 2012 by Walgreen Boots Alliance to increase the opportunities available for ex-offenders to move into sustainable employment. Originally made up of companies in the Walgreens Boots Alliance supply chain, the peer network is now open to any business with an interest in reducing re-offending through employment. Through the Network, employers are able to access best practice examples of business action and gain support and guidance from other members as well as access to resources and dedicated events.
Another fast-growing network is the membership organisation: Employers' Forum for Reducing Re-offending. As part of their membership regulations they have to agree to supply data regarding the number of people with convictions that they employ and also commit to support the wider recruitment of people with convictions.
Please note that Information has been sourced from the following organisations:- Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; Business in the Community;Unlock; Working Links;The Policy Exchange and Working Chance.
The Candidate's Journey
An overview of the different hurdles someone with a conviction faces when reintegrating back into the community and the support available.
The Employer's Journey
A snapshot of the simple steps for an employer to follow, from the spark of an idea to recruitment.
Employer's Points of Engagement
Look at the best way your business can engage with this cohort in prison and within the community.
Employer's Guide to Risk and Disclosure
An overview of the best steps to manage the recruitment of an ex-offender, including disclosure of their conviction.
Glossary of Key Terms
Useful and accessible guide to some of the key terms used in this sector.
Inspiring Industry Quotes
Quotes to inspire from businesses that have successfully hired from this talent pool.
Recruit! Supporting the fair treatment of people with criminal records
Recruit! is a website run by the charity Unlock that supports UK employers to recruit people with convictions. It helps companies to deal with criminal records fairly by sharing good practice, providing free guidance and tools, and showing what other employers are doing.
Ban the Box
A practical guide for employers who are looking to take on ex-offenders. It provides useful information on the legal, regulatory and contractual implications of employing someone with a criminal record.
Clean Sheet Employers Guide
Employers sometimes believe that ex-offenders lack soft skills, such as honesty or reliability. These perceptions are challenged by employers' actual experience.
Recruiting Safely and Fairly
A practical guide put together by Nacro to help employers recruit ex-offenders safely and fairly.
Hiring ex-offenders: A toolkit for businesses
Sharing their own positive experiences with other businesses, Virgin Trains offer practical advice and encouragement about the value of employing people with criminal convictions. This toolkit covers aspects such as planning a recruitment day and disclosure at interview.
Employing Ex-offenders: Making the Right Choice
The Institute of Hospitality has produced a guide to employing ex-offenders for businesses working in the hospitality industry, including within it a case study of the work done by The Clink Charity to provide training and employment opportunities for ex-offenders.
Strengthening your workforce with talent from disadvantaged groups
Created by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and produced in partnership with Business in the Community (BITC), this step-by-step guide supports employers reviewing their recruitment practices to ensure they are open and fair for all candidates, including those from disadvantaged groups, such as ex-offenders.
10 Things About Criminal Records
A guide created by Unlock for employability professionals supporting people into work. It is designed for practitioners that support people with criminal records into employment.
Unlocking the Potential of the UK's Ex-Offenders
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has produced this short guide, offering information and advice about banning the box and recruiting ex-offenders.
Helping Offenders Find Employment
Russell Webster has put together a resource pack aimed at helping ex-offenders who are looking for employment. The pack is divided into three sections: 1) help with disclosure; 2) help with finding work; and 3) employers with good reputations for taking on offenders.
Reducing Reoffending Through Employment
A guide, created by Business in the Community that outlines the steps businesses can take to support ex-offenders into employment.