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20th Sep, 2023

Lucie Daluiso
Lucie Daluiso
Job Title
Divisional Managing Director - Further Education

When ex-offenders re-enter society, their past can greatly affect their chances of creating a stable life for themselves, and though few law-abiding citizens may sympathise with this, empathy from employers is greatly needed in order to break the cycle of hopelessness that can lead back to challenging behaviour and crime. 

Prison education 

The prison system is always in need of educators – people with a strong desire to help others rebuild their lives. It’s a niche job that requires all the skills of a traditional teacher along with enthusiasm for mentoring offenders. Those who do it are also contributing to a safer, more prosperous society.  

Last year, a government press release set out a two-year plan to “hire new education, work and skills specialists to improve education and training in prisons on offer to get more offenders into work on release”, and “overhaul literary education in prisons to improve the reading and writing of all offenders so they are better placed to get a job”. 

While teaching skills that might lead to a trade will suit some prisoners, further education should also involve digital literacy that moves with the times, especially for those serving longer sentences. 

Now that work itself is transforming through improved technology, prison education must keep up and prepare individuals for jobs that will provide secure futures – not ones likely to be made redundant by AI in a few years. Prison education firm, Coracle, is one example of how we can equip offenders for life outside, keeping them in tune with the changing demands of work. 

Recruiting ex-offenders: breaking barriers to work  

Holding many prison-leavers back, regardless of their educational achievements, is the recruitment process. Standard job applications ask ex-offenders to tick a box to detail their conviction, but how many employers have immediately rejected those who do? As a form of discrimination, this is surely one of the harshest and least talked about. 

A fair system is overdue, and Business in the Community’s Ban the Box campaign is leading the charge to demolish recruitment barriers faced by those simply wanting a second chance. But in the 10th year of the campaign’s UK launch, it’s unclear how much change is really happening.  

A recent study by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) found that 60% of employers worried about [ex-offenders] re-offending and 66% of employers had concerns about the safety of existing staff members, with the REC urging employers to “keep an open mind to candidates with a criminal record”. Perhaps the unconscious bias training isn’t working. 

Some sectors are more willing than others to provide work for ex-offenders but those seeking more from their careers – perhaps those who have served a short sentence – will have higher obstacles to overcome. With this in mind, let’s not overlook the link between work and self-worth – critical reasons for falling into crime in the first place.  

According to the government website, only 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release. On a positive note, it also suggests 92% of employers say diverse recruitment has enhanced their reputation, helping them win new contracts. 

Career opportunities within further education  

Further education can of course fuel and fulfil career ambitions, but if employers are not willing to open their doors to ex-offenders, it could be seen by learners as a waste of time. So, what a great example then, that some colleges and universities are now hiring ex-offenders as employees. Of course, stringent DBS checks will have the final say in who joins the ranks, but it’s a step that could begin to change perceptions in other areas of work. One example is at the University of Chichester, which has a clear policy of inclusivity towards ex-offenders, stating on its website: “We actively promote equality of opportunity for all with the right mix of talent, skills and potential and welcome applications from a wide range of candidates, including those with criminal records”. 

Where courageous employers lead, others will surely follow – if they can see clear advantages to the system – and with ex-offenders needed to fill skills gaps across UK industry, what better incentive? Additionally, the universal focus on workplace diversity and inclusion means discerning jobseekers increasingly want to join inclusive organisations. Those that strive to meet their high standards will ultimately be the winners. 

To find a talented professional for your further education establishment, or to find your ideal role, contact one of our specialist consultants.