According to a study by The National Employment Law Project, 70 million Americans have some sort of a criminal record, at a “conservative estimate”. Similarly, in the US, nearly 700,000 people emerge from prison and more than half of them will end up back in prison within three years, having found no legal employment.
Here in Australia, the national imprisonment rate is 608 to every 100,000 people, with The Productivity Commission discovering that of the adult prisoners released in 2012-2013, 44.3 per cent of them returned to prison within two years.
Legal, fulfilling and supportive work can change the course of a convicted felon’s life: just ask the pioneering staff at these companies just how much of an impact a social support system can have, not only the businesses themselves, but on prisoners returning to the community.
This key cutting and shoe repair chain employs more ex-felons than any other business in the UK, with CEO James Timpson displaying a fierce advocacy for the rehabilitation of offenders into society after release.
“I find the staff we’ve recruited from prisons are among the best colleagues we’ve got,” James has previously said about the program. “We see this as a great way of not only helping people but of getting people to work for us. “We simply recruit people who we feel deserve a chance. I think the best way to avoid people going back to prison is to give them a good job.”
Timpson also has three “academies” around the UK where inmates can learn the trade while still inside. Since launching their scheme in 2014, Timpson have seen 90% of employees remain with the company for over a year and of 300 employed offenders, only seven reoffended.
Not only does this popular British pasty shop employ ex-offenders, it actively provides training and skills education programs in order to get them back on the straight and narrow. Their ‘Ready to Work’ campaign was developed in line with seven probation trusts and 12 prisons, to provide in-prison training focused on building work skills and self-esteem to assist convicts once they re-enter the community.
“Lots of great people’s lives have taken a wrong turn, but sometimes when you understand their background, you can understand why – more sobering, you also question if you don’t try and help them then who will,” Roison Currie, People Director at Greggs. “We are in the fortunate position where we can help – we just need to work a bit harder to enable us to do so.”
Toll’s Second Step program offer 45 positions for potential Australian employees who have limited employment prospects. While these aren’t exclusively offered to former inmates, the company is confident that their example will help other businesses pick up the mantle.
“The kids of offenders are six times more likely to end up in prison themselves,” explains Ruth Oakden, the manager of the Second Step program. “If we get a guy out of prison and into work, his kids are seeing a role model of employment and engagement rather than offending and disengagement. Those kids are more likely to have a better life.”
In June 2015, Matt Fountain founded Freedom Bakery – an in-prison bakery based in HMP Low Moss in Scotland. Prisoners are provided top-notch training by fellow Freedom staff and together, they produce loaves now stocked in over 12 bakeries across Glasgow. Founder Matt is the first to champion his product – and the effect it can have on his staff.
“Baking is therapy,” Matt says. “It can lead to positive results and making things right. It makes staying on the straight and narrow much more likely.”
Another vocal advocate for supporting employment opportunities for ex-felons is Virgin founder Richard Branson.
“It’s about awareness, employers need to be aware of the positives of taking on people who have been in prison,” he has explained. “Our experience shows that people from prison, if properly selected, will prove to be just as reliable as recruits who come from elsewhere. It is their personality that matters most.”
Virgin’s West Coast employment program for ex-offenders has so far trained and placed 25 ex-offenders since it began in 2013.
To read more about felon friendly businesses, grab Issue 42, on sale in newsagents now.