Helping female ex-offenders into work

It’s probably not surprising that jobs for ex-prisoners are hard to come by. But for female ex-offenders, the barriers to employment can often seem insurmountable.

Recent research from Working Chance and the Prison Reform Trust revealed that women are almost three times less likely to find jobs after their sentences. While 11 per cent of men are in employment six weeks after release, just 4 per cent of women secure work.

Poverty, lack of childcare support, homelessness and domestic abuse can all make it harder for women to gain the support needed to access work on the outside.

Despite the astonishingly high number of people with criminal convictions, which stands at 11 million in the UK alone, Ban the Box estimates that half of employers would be reluctant to hire anyone with any kind of conviction.

If employers had more information about how women end up turning to crime, however, they might change their stance on jobs for ex-prisoners, says Natasha Findlayson, chief executive of Working Chance. “The vast majority of women have committed minor, non-violent offences,” she says.

“They often start off as victims of crime themselves, like domestic abuse, and are driven to crime through poverty. Cases where women have turned to theft to provide for their children is something we’ve seen time and time again.”

Wellbeing key to training and employment

Thankfully, several organisations have stepped up to the challenge of offering jobs for ex-prisoners.

The bike and motoring retailer Halfords has trained 12 women to become bike mechanics while serving prison sentences through its Halfords Academy at HMP Drake Hall, Stafford. The academy has so far had a 100 per cent success rate in getting all trained female prisoners into jobs at the company.

Since prisoners became integrated in the workforce, employees have seen the positive impact it had on people’s lives and their communities first-hand

Tackling the underlying issues behind crime is essential, according to Halfords head of resourcing and people shared services Andy McBride. “There’s definitely a strong wellbeing element to this. We often see women’s confidence in themselves is incredibly low. So it starts with giving them the skills and resilience needed to enter employment,” she says.

Opportunities for flexible and part-time jobs for ex-prisoners has also been central. “Most of the time, women are still the main care-givers and these convictions can have a ripple effect across their families,” she says. “It’s really important to have an understanding of the family structure and to allow women to adjust back to life at home alongside their work.”

Ex-prisoners are often highly engaged

The motivation behind offering jobs for ex-prisoners isn’t just altruistic. McBride says it has given a welcome boost to the number of women entering engineering at a time when uptake is notoriously low and she’s been pleasantly surprised by “just how proud women have been to get these skills and work for us”.

Meanwhile, Roisin Currie, retail operations and people director at Greggs, admits that when the company made the decision to train and employ ex-prisoners in 2011, several employees raised concerns. “Of course, people were initially quite worried about what it might be like day to day to work alongside people who had served a prison term,” she says.

However, its Fresh Start scheme, which has given more than 600 people jobs, has had a beneficial effect across the company. “Since prisoners became integrated in the workforce, employees have seen the positive impact it had on people’s lives and their communities first-hand. Its honestly had a positive effect across everyone in the workforce,” says Currie. “These women are often the most highly engaged, loyal workers you’ll ever have.”