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Howard League blog · 21 Aug 2018

Employment on release

The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on how best to support ex-offenders on their path to employment. It is aimed at employers, asking them about their inclusive recruitment and employment practices. It covers anyone convicted of an offence, but I am most concerned about how the prisons are missing a trick when aiming to support prisoners into employment on release.

Around three quarters of prisoners are not in employment a year after release. This is not just because they cannot or do not get a job, it is also because they have been rendered unemployable by the prison. We are all aware that having been in prison puts employers off, but the problem goes deeper than that. Even men – 95 per cent of prison population are male – who do get a job, don’t keep it. They are just not prepared for employment.

Let me illustrate my argument. I recently visited a prison holding men sentenced to longer terms. The prison proudly showed me round the training workshops and I saw men learning bricklaying. Except they were not learning bricklaying. They were learning to lay one brick. One brick at a time. In the two-hour session in the morning they probably laid three bricks. They had turned up to the training centre at around 9.30am, without breakfast and having not had a shower. They were dressed in prison uniform, comprising baggy jogging bottoms which they had slept in and worn day and night for several days. They broke for lunch for a couple of hours, which meant going back to a shared cell to eat a baguette sitting hunched on a bunk, then have a couple of hours sleep. In the afternoon they had another couple of hours in the training workshop when they laid three more bricks. They did this for four and a half days a week, spending Friday afternoon catching up with prison administrative tasks. It was the world record in slow-bricklaying.

There is no way that these men were being prepared to work on a building site or for a public or private contractor. They would not last a day. They had not been prepared to get themselves up in the morning and be on time. They had not been prepared to work hard and fast at a physically demanding job. They had not been prepared to work in a team and take instruction from a manager. They had not been prepared to negotiate themselves out of conflict. And, they had not been prepared for budgeting or organising their lives.

Many men are fortunate in having supportive families who can help them into life outside, but increasingly the prison population comprises men who have no one to help them in the community. They are being badly let down by prisons and so are employers. The country needs a skilled and reliable workforce across a wide range of industries and many employers are looking to former prisoners. There is real damage done when an employer, say for example a small local building firm, takes on a recently released prisoner, only to find they cannot turn up on time and cannot keep with the fast pace of the job. That firm will not employ another prisoner and will share the experience with colleagues.

There are some wonderful companies who have successfully employed prisoners on release, but the statistics are damning for the majority. Prisons have to be places of purposeful activity and that does not just mean pottering about so that the regime figures can be massaged to show that they are out of their cells. Prisons must change if they are to give their captives a chance on release.



  • Trevor Ellis says:

    I just can’t understand how government ministers can expect former prisoners to get on in life after they are released without the right kind of support and guidance?

    Surely money should be put aside for the purpose of being used to help ex-offenders to get on the right and straight path and stay there.
    No one is born to be a criminal and even hardened offenders can be reformed as long as they have access to the right kind of support.

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