Friday, 17 June 2016

Guest post: Employment with a Criminal Record

A View from the Front Line

By Kate Beech, Managing Director of Chance 2013

(This guest post has been contributed by Kate Beech who is the Managing Director of Chance 2013, a national employment agency that recruits for employers from only among people who have a criminal record. The views expressed below are Kate’s and there is no commercial relationship between Chance 2013 and Prison UK: an Insider’s View).

In 2013 I set up Chance 2013 as an employment agency exclusively for people with a criminal record. Oh boy, was I naïve at the start. I had no experience of the criminal justice system and had never even been inside a prison until 2012. So you may ask: why on earth did I start it? I have to admit that I’ve thought that myself many times when let down by yet another potential client who changes their mind about giving people a chance or when a potential candidate for a job doesn’t turn up for interview or else fails a routine drug test.

Naïvety made me think that Probation (both NPS and the CRCs) would welcome me with open arms as part of their rehabilitation role must surely be to help with employment. I was so wrong. After three years there are still many probation officers who claim to have nobody on their caseload who is looking for work. I’m not saying that they are all bad but it seems that a significant proportion are not interested in helping those they supervise and are merely ticking boxes. The work programme providers are a mixed bunch as well, even though there are vast amounts of money involved to get their clients into work.

Getting involved with the criminal justice sector and seeing how it works is fascinating. Why can some prisons offer opportunities for prisoners to obtain useful qualifications and tickets such as Personal Track Safety (PTS) or Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, when other establishments seem horrified at the idea and continue with courses that are as useful on the outside as a chocolate teapot?

PTS card: required to work on the rails
We’re talking to prisons about courses that would be helpful on release and have the trainers ready, but surely that isn’t really our job? There is an acute skills shortage in many areas including engineering, civil engineering and construction so WHY aren’t more prisons addressing this as a priority, thus enabling people to find legitimate paid work quickly on release? Since finding and keeping gainful employment is recognised as a major factor in reducing reoffending after release from custody, then surely it is an obvious way forward.

Getting a job is difficult for many these days, but it can be nearly impossible if you’ve got a criminal record. Even the most self-confident individuals can feel intimidated and be made to feel stupid by the very young, often inexperienced advisors at Job Centres.

JobCentre Plus: not always pleasant
I had the misfortune of having to sign up with a local Job Centre 25 years ago and the person who I had to deal with was probably one of the nastiest that I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. The truly shocking fact is that the staff do not appear to be any better in 2016, even with all the training and support they get prior to dealing with their clients. Going to sign on is not a pleasant experience for anyone who wants to work and having to disclose an unspent conviction must make it even worse.

It’s all fine and good for the directors or owners of large corporations and businesses to say that they support the current ‘ban the box’ campaign and that they have no problem with taking on employees who have a criminal record, but the actual person - perhaps relatively low down in the business HR department - who handles the initial application may not be aware of this policy. Why can’t we as a society be more grown up about this and accept that when someone’s sentence, whether custodial or non-custodial, has been served it’s time to move on and put it in the past where it belongs? Hopefully, our agency removes barriers that include having to write disclosure letters - we’re not interested in them - and our clients aren’t either, as they trust us to put forward appropriate candidates for the vacancies.

Banning the Box: does HR know?
Now that we’re working with reputable, well-known local and national companies yet another issue has arisen. It’s always been a case of which to concentrate on first: the candidates or the jobs? However, now we’ve got stacks of jobs on offer where are the candidates? Statistics I’ve found seem to show, maybe incorrectly, that there are approximately 250,000 people being supervised by Probation or CRCs at any one time, so again I ask, how can we reach them and help put them on the path to legal employment?

Advertising vacancies only open to those with criminal records could be seen as discriminatory, yet at the same time many companies and employers can still discriminate against those with unspent convictions. And it’s not only those who have more recent convictions who may need help. How many of the 9.2 million people in the UK with a criminal record are stuck in a job they hate or are too well-qualified for because they are afraid to rock the boat and fear the possibility of their past history with the criminal justice system coming to light? With enhanced checks how relevant is it that an applicant for a role as a carer was caught shoplifting 20 years ago?

We’re having success stories and here are just a few I’d like to share with blog readers:

The first guy we placed 2 years ago with a very well known civil engineering firm has just been promoted, with a large increase in salary. He is so different now and has grown in confidence immensely. Life is great for him and he’ll be their managing director in the future (well, I have to keep him on his toes!)

DT - started with another civils company on a trial basis for three months. After a couple of weeks they were so impressed with his work that they started sending him on courses. He’s now working full time with them and loving the job. He says we’ve not only changed his life, but also those of his children. I ask you, can there be any better reward than that?

PS & MC are now fully trained “superstars” (according to their bosses) in traffic management. Again following a three-month trial period they’re now both working full-time and will go far I’m sure. They now also have qualifications which should mean they’re never out of work again.

So to end. Where are the enthusiastic candidates for the positions Chance 2013 are seeking to fill for our clients? My absolute mission is to prove once and for all that people with a criminal record are no different than those without and will prove to be an asset to an employer. Before you shout, of course there may be some failures, but surely that’s just life and is the same for any employment agency.

On a personal note I’m so proud of every success and keep in touch with everyone who has been placed by our agency. Anyone who fails or is struggling continues to get our support, as well as that of the charities and agencies we link with. We don’t want anyone to just slip unnoticed back into old ways just because there is nobody there to help.


  1. Really good post Kate.

    I echo this point in particular:

    "Advertising vacancies only open to those with criminal records could be seen as discriminatory, yet at the same time many companies and employers can still discriminate against those with unspent convictions."

    When I recruited to our helpline last year, we specifically wanted somebody with a record. The local job centre refused to advertise it as they said it was illegal to discriminate in this way. As you rightly point out, it's not. Strangely, I'd like it to be - because then it would mean employers couldn't simply refuse somebody with an unspent conviction without a genuine reason.

    The problem with support in the community is that it's so fragmented. There's lots of good work being done to try and help people with convictions. The changes in probation services certainly haven't helped matters and that's probably why you're struggling to fill the vacancies you've got.

    Keep up the good work! The more opportunities that employers are able to provide to people with convictions, the better for everybody concerned!

  2. Part of the issue is that the education offered in prisons generally simply isn't good enough to prepare anyone for work on the outside if they've gone in with little experience and/or no qualifications. Gove really needs to work on that.

    Also as funding for anything over level 2 has also disappeared and you can't get funding for a degree if you already have one it makes it very difficult to develop a course of study that would prepare you for work on the outside because pretty much every employer wants better qualifications than a level two in some mickey mouse course.

    Add in the fact that prison work hardly teaches anyone a good work ethic or provides any skills as most of it is busy work with zero purpose other than for governors to claim that they have x no of prisoners in work and the whole system is designed to fail.

    How about apprenticeships where you do the academic work inside in the education department and go out to work on ROTL being developed which would lead to a full time job on release if you prove your worth? Wouldn't be impossible to set up and would force education depts to up their game with better courses. You could do more advanced stuff coursework at a local college if prison can't offer it.

    Prison education and resettlement needs to be a LOT more individually tailored if it is really going to work.

    It's also important to go into prisons and to get people signed up from day one of sentence so they know what they need to do in terms of coursework etc to get the type of job they are interested in and if they need to transfer to another prison at some point for the education offerings. Don;t leave it until the resettlement (usually pretty much non existent) grinds into action two weeks before release.

    Advertise in Inside Time and Converse which are the two most widely read papers inside; advertise on prison radio. Don't rely on the prison to find you people or probation for that matter. Attend jobs fairs - for example our local rag runs one fairly regularly which is always widely attended so I'm sure there are similar ones in other areas. That will help you reach people who want to work. Homeless hostels, charities like Royal British Legion would also be good ways to link into people with criminal records who want to work as a lot of people coming out of prison end up in hostel accommodation and hostel support workers are a LOT more approachable and willing to help. The Legion knows a lot of ex service people who have been inside etc and could have info available at the very least. There's a huge range of places you can reach people with criminal records if you think outside the box and go beyond prison and probation who any ex con will tell you are useless at helping anyone do anything.

    I'd also note that careers provision in prisons where available is usually National Careers Service which is limited, tends to be one size fits all and can be very hit or miss depending on who is leading it. Need to work with them as well to spread awareness.

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  4. Hi,
    I am currently doing my dissertation on rehabilitation of prisoners using ICT to educate the prisoners, and was wondering if you would have more information on the education system used within prisons?