September 1, 2020
Why do offender employment schemes matter?
Everyone knows that, after a home, finding a job is the most important factor for most people trying to put a life of crime behind them. We have plenty of research evidence to back up this commonsense assumption. The literature highlights four key reasons why employment helps people move away from a criminal lifestyle:
- An individual can fill their time constructively and become economically independent.
- Employment facilitates reintegration into the wider society by helping individuals to move away from criminal networks and develop social relationships with a wide range of people.
- Being in paid employment enhances individuals’ self-esteem and helps them to build a renewed and positive sense of self, which helps to protect against a return to crime.
- The status of being an employed person acts as an important symbol to the individual of their ability to return successfully to a conventional life.
Over the last few years, there has been a feeling across the criminal justice field that the opportunities for people with criminal convictions to find jobs were improving. Faced with both very high levels of employment and the need for more staff, a growing number of employers were starting to consider people with criminal records as potential employees. This was particularly the case where training could be designed around their needs in prisons. There were even a number of household names (Greggs, Halfords, Timpsons, Tideway and Keltbray among them) who were proud of their willingness to give people a second chance and happy to testify that many of their employees with criminal convictions were the among the most hard-working and dedicated members of their workforce. So the question is whether this will change with the ‘new normal’ created by Covid.
Now more than ever, the involvement of Livery members in being prepared to help source jobs and recruit people themselves with criminal convictions from our No Going Back programme is absolutely critical to our prospects of success. We are fortunate in having the support of Livery companies whose members work across a number of sectors initially the built environment which is intentionally broad and includes construction, logistics, HGV driving and environmental cleaning (all growth areas despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic). However, the additional potential for training in prisons has meant a broad range of Livery companies are expressing interest in being involved including Furniture Makers amongst others.
With so many people already losing their jobs because of the pandemic — and many more anxious about their work futures — we are sometimes asked how we can justify investing money in offender employment schemes. While our first response is to point out that surely any modern and compassionate society is duty-bound to minimise the impact of reoffending on individuals, their families and wider society, there is also a strong economic argument.
A financial incentive
Last year the Ministry of Justice published new research estimating that the annual total economic and social costs of RE-offending (that is crimes committed by people who have previously been convicted) stands at a staggering £18.1bn. The average cost of just one prison place per year for 2018/19 was £43,213, although it is significantly higher for some of the Victorian local prisons in London (Brixton – £54,343, Pentonville – £48,619 & Wandsworth – £58,552) in which the No Going Back programme operates.
Set against these huge figures indicating the cost to society of not helping offenders turn their lives around is a growing evidence base of the effectiveness of offender employment programmes.
A Rapid Evidence Assessment summarised on the Reducing Reoffending website earlier this month found that academic and vocational educational programmes for prisoners (a central plank of the NGB programme is the vocational training it provides) are effective. This review of the most high-quality research studies undertaken on this type of programme found that prisoners who participated were between 28%-32% less likely to reoffend.
Earlier this year I undertook an analysis of the findings of the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Data Lab (JDL) service which was launched by the Government back in 2013 with the express purpose of finding out what works in reducing reoffending. Between the launch of the service on 2 April 2013 and 9 January 2020, the JDL analysed the effectiveness of 237 separate interventions and found that almost half (29/62) of the successful initiatives were offender employment schemes.
So not only are The Livery Companies working with Bounce Back committed to helping people transform their lives and contribute positively to their communities, but it does so sure in the knowledge that the work actually saves us all money.