Social Value: Employing prison leavers and ex-offenders.

An important aspect of the Government’s agenda on social value, is to provide work for those who face barriers to employment and they specifically state prison leavers as a target group. This is covered under Theme 2 of the Social Value Model, tackling economic inequality (specifically MAC 2.2, Employment).

This can be a strong component of your social value strategy, as you can deliver significant value by thinking more widely about who you can employ and adjusting your employment strategy accordingly. You can also support charities who work in this space if it is not possible for you to employ directly.

Regretfully though, many organisations have recruitment policies which prevent those with a criminal record from even being considered for an interview. Consequently, this is a component of your social value strategy that needs consideration in advance of any bids, otherwise you may find it hard to gain the necessary agreement to your social value commitments as you submit your social value offer. Fortunately, there is a lot of support which you can access from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and from charities such as St Giles Trust and the Wise Group.

Delivering Social Value

Unfortunately, it is easy to judge people who are ex-offenders. However, they are often victims themselves, may have been negatively influenced, be victims of trauma and may not have had a positive start in life. Consequently, they are more likely to have made some poor decisions, which have ultimately resulted in a criminal record.

However, many offenders want the opportunity to turn their backs on crime and having a job is important to help them to get their lives on track. Nevertheless, they find it harder to find employment and access many of the things which we take for granted, such as safe accommodation, credit and sufficient funds to support themselves and their families. With fewer options, it is easier for them to be drawn into re-offending, making their situation even worse.

If we, as employers, can support ex-offenders with paid employment, the savings to society are considerable. In these savings are police time and the costs associated with the criminal justice system such as legal fees, courts, prisons and the probation service. This is in addition to the potential suffering saved for the victims of crime and the offenders themselves. .

Reasons to work with prisons and ex-offenders:

Forward-thinking organisations are turning the tables by recognising the unique value that individuals with lived experience of the criminal justice system can bring to the workplace. By tapping into their diverse perspectives, deep insights, and hard-won resilience, these organisations are unlocking new pathways for success while breaking down the stigma that has held back so many talented individuals. Other reasons include:

  • Reducing initial recruitment and job advertising costs: 
    The CIPD has calculated that filling the average non-managerial vacancy costs around £2,000. The time and cost of recruiting can be overcome by tapping into this readily available talent pool.   

  • Diversity, inclusion and social responsibility: 
    Over two fifths of employers say hiring ex-offenders has increased the diversity of their employees. It has also been a factor in helping businesses to become more socially responsible.  

  • Resolving skills shortages: 
    A third of organisations state that they are unable to address skills gaps, which is likely to have a knock-on impact on productivity and performance. Many prisons teach a variety of industry level skills, with prisoners achieving professional qualifications. Employers can tap into this talent pool to resolve skills shortages, as well as helping prisoners and ex-offenders get their lives back on track.  

  • Reducing staff absence: 
    The biggest concern of employers around hiring ex-offenders is a worry that they may not be trustworthy. However, over 80% of employers of ex-offenders have positively rated their reliability, motivation, attendance and performance.  

  • Increasing staff retention: 
    Evidence from employers such as Marks & Spencer shows that ex-offenders place a higher value on having a job because of a desire to stay out of prison. This often means ex-offenders have higher levels of loyalty and retention, which keeps institutional knowledge within your business.  

Where to start:

A good place to start is to engage with the New Futures Network (NFN), where you can register your interest and find out more. This is a specialist part of HMPPS and has over 400 members. They offer support for recruitment, with access to those looking for roles, useful information and guidance. They also host the Employers Forum for Reducing Re-Offending (EFFRR) which aims to inspire as many employers as possible to employ ex-offenders.

Supporting Charities who work in this area:

You can also contact organisations such as the St Giles Trust and the Wise Group who support people who are held back by poverty, unemployment, experience of the criminal justice system, homelessness, substance misuse, exploitation, ill-health and abuse. These charities work across the UK with the Wise Group operating in the North and St Giles Trust in the South. Their projects are run by people who have overcome these challenges, because those who have ‘been there’ are better able to help others. They help people create a better future for themselves and those around them through providing support, advice and training.

Their services address the root causes of the barriers holding people back and they help:

  • People achieve a route out of poverty.

  • Children and young people involved in or at risk of child criminal exploitation to make a safe and sustained exit.

  • Women and families to overcome disadvantage and progress towards independence.

  • Adults and young people who face barriers to access opportunities to develop skills and gain employment.

  • Serving prisoners and prison leavers to resettle and make positive progress.

  • Bringing this to life, over the last 20 years, St Giles has trained over 2,000 people as Peer Advisors who have in turn supported around 20,000 people. They offer a package of training and support to ensure people with lived experience can progress their lives and help others going through similar experiences. Evaluations have shown the impact of this approach:

  • A 2022 evaluation was undertaken into the St Giles Peer Circles project. It is an education, training and employment project which uses people with lived experience to help others overcome the personal, social and economic reasons holding them back from gaining employment and changing their lives. In addition to positive impact for individuals, families and communities, Peer Circles gives excellent value for money, delivering savings of around £60,000 per year per client to the public purse.

  • In 2018, PwC evaluated their Peer Advisor Programme, supporting prisoners leaving HMP Leeds to resettle into the community. It concluded that £8.54 in societal value was created for every £1 invested in the service generated through a mixture of economic contributions, human capital gains, avoided Exchequer costs and wellbeing improvements among individuals. In total, £1.4 million of societal value was generated from a £165,132 investment into the service.

By supporting and working with charities who work in this area, you can consequently deliver a high level of societal value.


Content by Mike Coveney

Director Business Performance, Augmentas Group

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