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opinion

Re-building lives

Giving ex-offenders a second chance

Giving ex-offenders a second chance

“Qualifications coming out of my ears” – these are the words of many ex-offenders who cannot find jobs when they are released from prison. How can we help break this cycle?

Paul Harrod, Director of The Together Group paints the picture of the harsh reality facing ex-prisoners.

The new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that the failure of past Governments to focus on prisoner rehabilitation is ‘indefensible’. If Mr Gove is now to oversee a great increase in prisoner education and training that would be very welcome. However the employment chances of those leaving prison remains bleak.

I have met many ex-offenders who have, in their words, “qualifications coming out of my ears” but who cannot find employment, reporting instead a dispiriting sequence of failed job interviews and unanswered applications. A criminal record remains a huge obstacle to those seeking work.

The Midlands Together project in early 2014

The Midlands Together project in early 2014

“Nationally about 35% of offenders reoffend within a year of release and this can rise to as much as 58% for those on short-term sentences. It costs from £500 to £1,800 per week to incarcerate someone and that is before we even begin to calculate the indirect costs of reoffending.”

Paul Harrod – Director of The Together Group

Many employers who I have spoken to are sympathetic to ex-offenders trying to start afresh. However they also tell me that when faced with a long list of applicants for a single job, they feel justified in excluding those with a criminal record and giving someone else the chance instead. That is actually quite a logical, even reasonable, argument. Yet if virtually every employer across the UK adopts the same approach then ex-offenders are an almost permanently-excluded group from the labour market, which has profound knock-on effects for our society, not least in dealing with very high levels of re-offending.

Nationally about 35% of offenders reoffend within a year of release and this can rise to as much as 58% for those on short-term sentences. It costs from £500 to £1,800 per week to incarcerate someone and that is before we even begin to calculate the indirect costs of reoffending – in terms of Police and Court time, as well as the impact on victims and communities.

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However, those ex-offenders who do secure work get the opportunity to earn a living; they pay a bit of tax; discover the psychological benefits of meaningful activity; learn to work as part of a team; and start to focus on their future potential rather than their past mistakes. In my experience productive work can be the key to recovery and is the single biggest factor in preventing reoffending.

This summer we are raising £1.65 million via a bond issue to launch Glasgow Together CIC: a social business that will create full-time jobs for ex-offenders by bringing empty properties back into use, and building new, affordable homes._P7A9341 Our employees, all of whom will have been in prison in the past, will get the opportunity to develop skills as plasterers, painters, joiners, carpenters, kitchen-fitters or bricklayers. Every property they renovate, or build, will then be sold on with all the money recycled back into the project to create more jobs for ex-offenders. We are also working in partnership with Barlinnie prison to provide unpaid work experience opportunities to current offenders. Glasgow Together will pay a return to its investors, many of whom may be generous donors to charity but who are now looking to invest their money in order to create amazing social impact.

I believe that our efforts in Glasgow (and in our established projects in Bristol and the West Midlands) are essential pieces in the rehabilitation jigsaw. Job creation is the key and for all the Justice Secretary’s laudable efforts to boost education and training for those inside, he – and we -must not neglect the importance of meaningful employment opportunities for those facing life outside the prison gate.

words Paul Harrod, director, The Together Group

www.glasgowtogether.co.uk

 

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