Would you hire a person with a criminal record? Does a person’s past and life experience determine whether you’d be prepared to welcome them into your business? Nine million people in the UK have some form of criminal conviction. Some are serious convictions and others just minor fines or cautions but ticking that box on a job application form can often diminish a suitably qualified individual’s chance of landing the job.
“Offenders who find work on leaving prison are half as likely to re-offend so getting them into work is pivotal to rebuilding their lives,” says Jonathan Freeman, managing director of Mosaic, a charity set up by HRH the Prince of Wales as part of his Business in the Community charity. The cost of re-offending is estimated at £13bn per year and figures from the Ban the Box campaign show that if 5% of private companies in the UK removed the criminal record declaration box from their application and interview stage, one million new job roles could be available. This would enable ex-offenders to support themselves in a stable job, easing the burden on the UK benefit system.
“Whilst it is a brave commitment for a business to take on an individual who has a criminal record, it’s important that businesses step up and play this role in society. By training and developing these individuals, companies can effectively become a lifeline, turning someone’s life around and helping them to get back on track” Freeman adds.
After his release from a two-year prison sentence, Duane Jackson, founder of Kashflow, struggled to find employment. He began freelancing in web development and whilst striving to make sense of the jargon that came with managing his own accounts, he coined one of the biggest household names in cloud-based bookkeeping.
Jackson is in favour of helping ex-offenders rebuild their lives and has employed many within in his own business. He claims that when given a chance to rebuild their lives, ex-cons show a high degree of loyalty to their employer and therefore are committed to performing well. “A big part of it is that they feel they have got something to prove and because of that they work a lot harder,” Jackson suggests.
A study by Working Links found that 70% of ex-offenders employed full time never go on to re-offend. Working Links operates Bad Boys’ Bakery inside HM Prison Brixton, a programme once led by the culinary bad boy himself, Gordon Ramsey, on his programme Gordon Behind Bars. More than 60 people with convictions have been part of the bakery and the tasty treats have been stocked in several of Caffè Nero’s coffee shops in London.
Fellow chef Jamie Oliver has also employed former criminals and now runs an apprenticeship in his Fifteen restaurants to help troubled people focus their energy into catering. What’s more, the Ban the Box campaign saw 30 firms pledge their support with a combined workforce of 200,000.
Jill Miller, research adviser at CIPD feels that part of the prejudice towards hiring ex-offenders tends to be around personality traits rather than skills to do a job. The nature of the conviction is often not taken into consideration, many people commit crime in their youth and when in prison will go through a transitional period of rehabilitation and maturity. The classification of a criminal conviction upon application is often vague; while employers could worry that a serious crime was committed, it could be something much more minor. Miller points out that businesses are fundamentally changing cultures by hiring ex-offenders which she says involves a switch in mindset. Miller suggests that employers should “question prejudices and think about the potential of this under-tapped talent pool.”
Of course certain convictions will inevitably hinder jobseekers’ access to certain roles. However, firms are increasingly more flexible in their policies. “Being in a regulated industry where we have to take references out on staff means we simply cannot employ anyone with severe criminal convictions,” says Lyndon Wood, creator and owner of business insurance company constructaquote.com. “However, we would accept those with maybe minor driving offences and people with convictions from their youth.”
The reality is that when it comes to it, people prefer to avoid hiring people with a criminal record, Jackson admits. Whilst harbouring good intentions, many employers would still avoid hiring a person with a criminal record. He suggests that ‘banning the box’ is not the solution to tackling prejudice; he instead proposes that a change in the law would be more efficient. Currently, if you have served a sentence of more than four years, that conviction is never spent and you will be required to declare it for the rest of your life.
“A friend of mine was applying for jobs and one he got to the last stage and then they asked the question. He’s actually very honest so admitted it, then didn’t get the job and was sat to one side after quietly and told, ‘look you would have got the job if you didn’t declare it,’” recalls Jackson. His friend later applied for a job where he didn’t declare his conviction and is now the company’s IT director, one level away from the board. When he joins the board, the company is required to do a background check that will see him lose his position at the company where he has worked for eight years.
It’s clear that a change in perspective is needed and employees should be judged on a case-by-case basis. If they are capable to do the job and exceedingly perform, what does it matter what their conviction was?