Monthly Archives: January 2015

Widening Access to Education

The Scottish Government is preparing to set up a commission on widening access to Higher Education which will commence in March 2015. This follows commitments set out by Nicola Sturgeon in “One Scotland – Programme for Government” (1)

Talented children are born into deprivation or privilege without discrimination but adversity and opportunity for children are grossly uneven. The correlation between criminal histories and deprivation is therefore unsurprising.

There is a clear research gap regarding the extent to which criminal records are a barrier to Further or Higher Education and the commission on widening access should investigate this important factor as part of its remit. Full-time study is also an opportunity to create the conditions to stop offending and to put the cushion of time between convictions and applying for work.

1 in 10 women and 1 in 3 men in Scotland have a criminal record so this is not a marginal issue and our poorest neighbourhoods have a much greater density of people with convictions than the Scottish averages presented above.

While barriers to wider access are broader and more complex than one issue, quite simply any inclusion strategy is incomplete unless it considers the impact of previous convictions.

There are 2 distinct avenues which the commission should explore regarding barriers for people with convictions.

  1. The extent to which people with convictions are excluded by further or higher education institutions. (Criminal convictions with certain labels such as, fire-raising, hate crimes and sexual offences are particularly difficult to consider objectively and anecdotal evidence of very good practice and very poor practice in admissions has been presented)
  2. The extent to which people with convictions, deselect themselves from Further or Higher Education because they anticipate discrimination over their conviction or they deselect themselves due to anxiety about discussing their past. (Self de-selection is common when recruiters  request criminal history disclosure for employment)

While the commission has an opportunity to develop a strategic response, Recruit With Conviction seeks a more practical role through the development of academic circles of influence  in Scotland, comprising people who are interested in either of the following areas:

  • Improving the access to study for people with convictions.
  • Improving opportunities for employment or work placements for people with convictions in education institutions and their supply chains – Ultimately improved diversity in recruitment can support wider cultural changes in admissions.

If this appeals to you and you work in Further or Higher Education, then please sign up to the circle of influence on the following link


(1) One Scotland – Programme for Government

Employer Prison Events

The best recruiters know their own bias. People in prison are the most stigmatised and stereotyped individuals anywhere, so if you think you really do diversity, then test it! See the opportunities available when you “recruit with conviction” and come to a prison event.

Employers can tour prison workshops and training facilities  in HMP Barlinnie on 13th March 2015. Follow the link below to see a flyer and book a place.

Employment and Employers’ Fair Flyer

Recruit With Conviction also have another provisional date for an employer event in HMP Addiewell on 25th March 2015. For more information on HMP Addiewell contact

“Recognise yourself in he and she who are not like you and me” – Carlos_Fuentes


Punishment and Welfare

As a teenager, I worked for an entrepreneur called Bob Druce. He had built up a number of successful businesses and he carried a quiet and thoughtful disposition combined with a huge stature.  This enabled him to have a legendary status among my peers. The experience of working for him has served me well throughout my career.

Bob was known as a great motivator and I remember a rather pompous business partner asking him, “Bob, do you use the carrot or the stick?”. Bob replied, “Neither, I don’t employ donkeys!”

Motivating people to change their lives after criminal behaviour or long term unemployment, is commonly simplified by populist prattle which is similar to the rhetoric of that pompous questioner.

Pain is not always gain. Typically, humans are blind to the vulnerabilities of others, especially when we think of those people as different to ourselves or when we can’t see them.

Motivating people to change their behaviour is complex and Recruit With Conviction uses the following description of best practice: The right intervention, for the right person at the right time, delivered in the right place, for the right reason and with the most efficient use of resources.

In order to expand my limited knowledge in this field, I recently attended a seminar at University of Edinburgh – Punishment and Welfare Revisited. It was delivered by eminent professors David Garland and Michael Alder. To be honest, some of the theory in the discussion was beyond my comprehension but there are some pursuing thoughts which I can’t help ruminating over.

Criminal Justice and Welfare to Work policies are utterly disconnected for 2 principle of reasons.

1. The policies are developed in departmental silos – In Scotland, welfare to work policy is developed in Westminster and Justice in Holyrood. (Not a political statement  just a fact)

2. The drivers for change have conflicting priorities. The welfare to work priority is benefit “off-flow” and the justice priority is reducing crime.

A job underpins a change from crime and that job should be a positive outcome for the employer and the employee if it is going to be sustainable.

The Recruit With Conviction priorities are; the right job, at the right time, with the right employer, for the right person in the right place. Pressure for fast benefit “off-flows” do not necessarily support this and can cause significant harm at times. If jobs and people are mismatched then this can harm the employer as well as the employee.

If employers have negative experiences, then fair opportunities to compete for work are diminished.

With further Scottish devolution announced for some welfare to work issues, we now have an opportunity to get a little closer to an intelligent solution.

Poverty has a clear connection to crime and while money does not cure poverty any more than morphine cures cancer, generosity, opportunity and compassion, go a long way.

So, rather than treating humans like donkeys for a short term fix, we can motivate lasting change by simply empowering talented key workers and employers to get it right.


Richard Thomson

Director, Recruit With Conviction

Recruitment in the Scottish Public Sector

Is the public sector in Scotland Recruiting With Conviction?

The public sector in Scotland is a diverse set of organisations ranging from very large NHS Trusts through to small agencies which employ only a handful of people.

They often have mature policies and procedures for the recruitment of people with convictions. Some organisations have even gone the extra mile in their community roles, for example, NHS Lothian are sector leaders with their socially responsible recruitment programme.  They implemented a strategy to increase recruitment opportunities for young people and vulnerable groups and enabled this through tailored Recruit With Conviction diversity workshops. By supporting first line managers and recruiters to recognise their unconscious bias towards the most stigmatising stereotypes relating to “offenders”, the workshops were able to unpick obstacles in wider diverse recruitment, providing solutions and empowerment to make good recruitment decisions and select staff from the widest possible pool of talent.

While many other public sector organisations have positive policy and procedures for the recruitment of people with convictions, they are not always effective because of the difference between authorisation and empowerment. Similarly, the monitoring of recruitment practice relating to people with convictions is rare, if it exists at all. However there are some diligent Human Resource professionals who are prepared to argue the case for recruiting with conviction.

While NHS Lothian is developing as a leader in socially responsible recruitment, there is anecdotal evidence about practice in other agencies where individuals are deselected automatically if they disclose convictions. In another case Recruit With Conviction successfully supported an individual to appeal de-selection from a desk based job in a public sector agency because he had one historic conviction relating to possession of one MDMA tablet. This conviction coincided with a time in his life when he was suffering bereavement.

But the public sector is not recruiting?

Reduced budgets and recruitment freezes in tandem with increased outsourcing mean that less public sector jobs are available and competition for these posts tends to be very high. The lack of availability of public sector jobs is accentuated by false assumptions by applicants that they will never be employed by the public sector because they have a criminal record or they consider the prospect of disclosure of convictions too embarrassing.

However a reduction in available opportunities does not diminish the need for good practice. Excellence in human resources is often developed in the public sector. Private sector professionals often ask how the public sector addresses such recruitment difficulties and human resource specialists easily move across sectors, so there is a bleed out effect for developments.

Given that the profile of people with convictions is so closely linked with deprivation profiles, we argue that unless barriers (to recruiting people with convictions) are addressed, then employers are only playing at the fringes of the diversity agenda. There is no place for this elephant in the room any more.

But it only affects a small number of people?

Analysis from the “2013 MoJ /DWP /HMRC data share”(1) evidences close correlation between people with any conviction and low pay, temporary employment and long term unemployment. Given that the research cohort of 4.3 million people represented about half of the population of people with convictions in RUK and 28% of people on job seekers allowance (JSA), we estimate that as many as 50% of people claiming JSA may have at least one criminal conviction. In contrast about one fifth of the working age population has at least one criminal conviction.

It is true that many more employability barriers exist but there are good reasons to start with the most difficult one first.



Universal Universities

Recruit With Conviction has been developing strong links with Universities since we were founded in 2012. We believe that Higher Education institutions have powerful levers for change.

We were delighted to speak at an event at University of Edinburgh in December “Should the University Employ Prisoners” and are now seeking to develop circles of influence in Scottish education. The University of Edinburgh produced a report of that event which is available on this link Universities and prisons events 4th December report (1) University of Edinburgh

If you are interested in finding our more about this please register below.

Subscribe to the Universities Circles of Influence

* indicates required

Ched Evans

Should a person who has been convicted of rape, be allowed to work in a very high profile position where he is adulated by impressionable young people?

The publicity of the Evans conviction has highlighted some of the legal issues about sexual consent to a wider audience and hopefully this will result in some constructive debate and improved attitudes towards sexual violence. Any contribution to reduce sexual violence needs careful consideration.

Reducing crime fundamentally improves our quality of life and sustained employment is the single most important factor in reducing re-offending.

While employment empowers positive change the Ched Evans case has complicated cause and effect implications. If Ched Evans’ returns to professional football, would this represent acceptance or normalisation of sexual violence?

We don’t know for sure but vile threats towards Jessica Ennis-Hill after her intervention suggest that there is some merit to this argument but is Ched Evans responsible for the comments and attitudes of others? He has never publicly promoted sexual violence as a means of response to disagreement.

Evans’ return to football would have been smoother, if he had demonstrated reform and remorse but instead he has chosen to appeal his conviction. For the time being, he is a convicted rapist but his co-defendant is not. The behaviour of both men on that night was fundamentally wrong and we have a wider challenge to improve the attitude of some young men towards women more generally.
Taking responsibility is a critical component for safe and sustainable employment in the Apply With Conviction and Recruit With Conviction models. Failure to take responsibility can occur if an individual is in denial and genuinely fails to understand the consequences of their behaviour. This is intrinsically linked with self preservation. More rarely, it is the result of a miscarriage of justice but that is a matter for the courts – not intuitive beliefs based on one side of an argument.

If Evans wins his appeal then public knowledge of what really went on that night will not change much but he will be relabelled from a rapist to a victim in a miscarriage of justice. In reality those words are hollow but similarly other terms like “offender” or “murderer” mask many other truths.

Ched Evans is a footballer, he has a talent for football that is rare and is perhaps only found in 1 in every 100,000 people or more. But what does it say about our society if we seek moral guidance from somebody on the grounds of their wealth or ability to kick a ball rather than their compassion and decency?

He has been convicted of a serious crime and served his prison time. Banishing him from his profession and denying him the opportunity to compete for work is an understandable moral gut reaction. After all, rape is a disgusting behaviour. However, Evans is now one of the most vilified and marginalised people in our society. He is a national figure of hate but he is also a human being with many perfections and imperfections. So while our gut reaction is to repulse against vile behaviour, a sound analysis of the facts suggests that our society is better served by stopping the hatred and letting him work. If Ched Evans and others like him are allowed to fulfil their potential and develop compassion, rather than get angry, self destruct and harm other people, then the world will be a slightly better place.

Employment is widely used to support rehabilitative processes across a broad spectrum of problems which affect human beings. This includes criminality, addictions and mental health issues. With a little creativity and collaboration, rather than witch-hunts and tribal fighting then great outcomes can be achieved. A football club could work with Evans, his probation officers and others so that this young man can develop positively, perhaps donate a significant proportion of his large salary to charity and play the beautiful game.