Working back: the importance of employment in reducing reoffending
An often quoted statistic is that offenders are 30 per cent less likely to reoffend, if they have employment when they are released from prison. Another statistic is that reoffending costs the UK taxpayer £15bn/year. Simple, then, you may think. Get them all a job, and we’ll cut the crime rate, and the number of victims, by a third and save the tax payer £5bn/year.
It is not, of course, that simple. There can be no doubt that employment does reduce the reoffending rate. This has been shown by various studies, including research by the Ministry of Justice, as well as anecdotal evidence. However, we need to set ex-offenders up for success in finding and keeping employment, by tackling the multiple issues that may have led to their offending in the first place. This applies not just to those released from prison but those who have been given non-custodial sentences, such as Community Payback.
Low literacy and numeracy skills, as well as a lack of qualifications, are implicated as risk factors for offending. The National Literacy Trust reports that 48 per cent of people in custody have a reading age at or below the expected level of an 11 year old and that 47 per cent said they had no qualifications.
These deficits do not in themselves cause someone to commit a crime – rather, they can determine choices, or rather, lead to a lack of choices in later life which ends up in criminal behaviour. Due to these experiences, which may result in unemployment through several generations, the many benefits of working may not be understood or accepted by offenders.
In addition, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) are over-represented in the prison population and they experience specific challenges in getting back into the job market.
The CBI reports that six in ten employers automatically reject applicants with a criminal record and the same proportion – six in ten – of ex-offenders are unemployed one year after their release.
We work with offenders both before their release and on their return to the community to address the issues that led to their offending, including, potentially, unemployment. One of our more recent initiatives is employ an ex-offender, who also has over 25 years’ experience working as a professional recruitment consultant, to help our service users become job-ready. We also employ trained Peer Mentors, who, as ex-offenders themselves, can support and advise service users in turning their lives around, having walked the same path and found how to live a crime free life.
We need employers who understand ex-offenders offer a pool of largely untapped potential – and that, if given a chance and some support, they will more than repay the trust those employers show in them.
Together, we can find solutions and break the vicious cycle of reoffending, enabling service users to lead productive lives of benefit to the community and to the economy.