Thoughts, stories and events to share

Why Employment Works

Sophie O'Sullivan, about 4 years ago

The prison population has increased by 77% in the last 30 years. Boris bids to increase this overcrowded prison population further with 10,000 new prison places. In light of these proposed changes, we are going to look at why employment works and where the campaign has taken us so far this year.

For individuals involved in the criminal justice system, employment provides stability and a means through which they can grow, develop and rebuild their lives.

Within a prison setting, they might take an educational course that sparks their interest (such as those run by Learning Together or the Prisoners' Education Trust) and go onto pursue this passion, perhaps gaining a higher education scholarship and a chance to specialise with The Longford Trust.

The Longford Trust have influenced my life a great deal. Both financially and emotionally. They provided financial help… and good direction and a mentor with relevant industry knowledge to help me on my career path.

- Justin Gahan, Longford Scholar

Or they may have the opportunity to do a professional work placement inside, for example in catering or horticulture with The Clink Charity or they may develop their skills in painting or construction with Bounceback. The national re-offending rate is 50%, but in those supported by Bounceback, this figure drops to just 12%.

Prisoners may choose to be linked with a charity like Switchback and train in one of their training cafes on release, boosting their confidence going forward into full-time employment. 59% of Switchback Trainees progress onto long-term employment, education or training, rising to 84% of programme finishers. Read more about Switchback Trainee Cyrus' story here.

Perhaps prisoners take up a hobby like poetry, painting, performing. Maybe singing takes their fancy and they join a Beating Timechoir. Beating Time is unique in the way in which it fosters a therapeutic community, provides links to employers and offers funding for entrepreneurship activities. In Spring, we also connected with John Burton, an ex-offender who has started his own App that looks at through-the-gate aftercare. This is just one example of great pioneering talent that may have otherwise been lost in the criminal justice system. Click here to discover more about Inside Connections.

Upon release, there are lots of excellent organisations that specialise in recruitment support, for example social enterprise Offploy. Currently, they have helped over 150 people into meaningful, mentored and sustainable work and will be releasing a DBS checking process to aid both employers and candidates.

Maybe a candidate is on ROTL and is therefore able to work within the community during the day for Timpson or Pret, building essential career blocks that bridge the gap between custody and release.

Earlier this year, we covered The Foundry and their brilliant approach to open and fair recruitment. This is another great example of the benefits of ROTL and the practical training opportunity it provides. One of The Foundry's team members is on ROTL and he is supported and encouraged by his employer, having successfully passed his voluntary placement. He currently enjoys his full-time paid position as a fitness instructor.

People can have a second chance and deserve it. It works for us.

-Ben Gotting, Founder, The Foundry

Rehabilitation is not about punishment. All these initiatives offer the space for growth, the uncovering of one's self, provide purposeful activity and build meaningful relationships that lead to real opportunities on release. They tackle the issues that lead to offending, such as social care, poverty, homelessness, mental health, learning disabilities, abuse, addiction, etc. They see people. They understand people. They invest in human potential.

Employers across all industries are starting to engage with the ex-offender community due to an economic imperative and a general shortage in skills. They adopt a partnership approach, working alongside charities, like Only a Pavement Away or Clean Sheet, to refine recruitment policies in order to access this untapped talent. These forward-thinking, innovative businesses include Raw Workshop, Greene King Pub Co, Citrus Ornge and many more who have signed the Ban the Box campaign, or connected with Dominic Headley & Associates (DHA) to refine their approach to recruiting people with convictions, or perhaps have joined New Futures Network. This shift in thinking is a creative way for employers to diversify their talent pool.

If you want loyalty, resilience, the hardest working people, hire people who have faced and overcome challenges in life. They are survivors and doers. Best employee you can have. As simple as that.

-Rick Mower, Managing Director, Raw Workshop

Here at the Exceptionals, we have also created a number of short films with different employers talking about their experience of hiring ex-offenders. The aim of these films is to show the positive impact that working with offenders and ex-offenders has had on their businesses and encourage other employers to consider hiring someone with a conviction. All of these companies have worked with individuals with criminal justice experience in a variety of different ways and reflect the diversity of approach to incorporating people with a conviction into their workforces, across a range of industries:


Land Securities


Hilton Group (featuring Fred Siriex)

All of this is a small snapshot of what is possible when people come together. Such a progressive way of thinking adds wealth to our communities and our society as a whole. Increasing prison capacity is a major step backwards.

The Exceptionals shall continue to share the combined story of both the ex-offenders and businesses because, time and time again, we have found that work really does work.