Only 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release, according to the Ministry of Justice. Yet those who do manage to secure a role are nine percentage points less likely to re-offend.
In many key sectors, over half of employers struggle to fill skilled vacancies, but despite this less than half of employers say they would employ someone who has been to prison.
At Ricoh, a global technology and business services company, we have been working with prisons since 2013. Our involvement and commitment to reducing re-offending were spearheaded by Ricoh UK CEO, Phil Keoghan after he attended a Seeing is Believing visit organised via Business in the Community. The visit focused on reducing re-offending and included a trip to HM Prison Brixton. It inspired Phil’s passion and enthusiasm for the societal case for supporting prisons to help reduce reoffending.
As Ricoh’s People & Corporate Responsibility Director, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more, so in 2015 I visited a prison open day myself. I came back as inspired and excited as Phil and knew there was something we could do to help. Five years later and our prison programme has gone from strength to strength.
Initially, we started running employability workshops at HMP Onley near Rugby. We have since extended sessions out across a number of prisons and actively engage our employees in offering serving prisoners careers advice and guidance to help them get their lives back on track. We have run more than 20 of these workshops in the last three years. Most prisoners are very surprised to hear that businesses will even consider giving them a job, so these workshops are also really important in shifting their perceptions and giving them hope that there is life after prison.
At Ricoh, we have seen some invaluable business benefits come from our work with prions. Like any business, we can sometimes struggle to recruit new talent and we welcome work placements at Ricoh through the Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) system. ROTL allows prisoners coming to the end of their sentences to do work experience with us on day release from prison. This has really helped us to tap into new pools of talent with committed and dedicated new employees, who often fully embrace a second chance.
It’s been fantastic to see our leadership at Ricoh support these activities with such passion. Working with prisons has had a positive impact on inclusion and diversity across the business, as well as employee engagement. Our community work, including the work we do with prisons and ex-offenders, is a key component of our team building and leadership development. Time and again we have seen employees return from meeting the prisoners with a whole new mindset and commitment, not only to supporting the prisons programme but also leading their existing teams in a much more inclusive and open manner.
Consequently, we find that those employees who have attended the prison workshops report higher engagement levels with Ricoh as an employer. As a responsible business we want to make a positive difference to society and we know from employee feedback that having access to a wealth of corporate responsibility activities – employees are given two days per year in addition to their annual leave allowance to take part in volunteering initiatives – is really important to them. It also attracts new employees, who are drawn to want to work at Ricoh because of our community programmes.
Another completely unexpected benefit we found is that our managers who have attended prisons as part of our employment workshops become better leaders. The opportunity they have had to interact with prisoners (before Covid-19 restrictions were introduced) really seemed to make them more compassionate and open to new ways of thinking. This, in turn, has encouraged a more inclusive and diverse approach to their whole team. To this end, our work with prisons and ex-offenders has had a hugely positive impact on our overall culture at Ricoh.
Have there been any teething problems along the way? Of course, as with any change or new initiative, we had to handle this carefully to ensure any challenges were quickly overcome. When we first proposed taking on people from prisons on day release, we did receive some push-back from managers. They were concerned about how to communicate with their team members and how they might relate to the individual. As with any similar change, there can be an understandable fear, often caused by the unknown. I am a real believer that seeing is believing and to let people see and experience things for themselves. The way we tackled concerns was by sending managers on an open day to the prison where they could actually meet and speak with prisoners in person. After this experience, our managers came back not just reassured, but passionate advocates of the programme.
I’d urge businesses that want to get involved and find out more about the benefits of working with prisons and employing ex-offenders, to visit the offender employment campaign website: https://offenderemployment.campaign.gov.uk/. Once you register your interest you will be supported by a broker for the New Futures Network (NFN), which is a specialist part of the prison service. NFN brokers can provide tailored support to businesses to help them develop the employment opportunities that best suit their needs.
Give it a go, you will be surprised and delighted at the results!