All posts by recruitwithconviction

Welfare to Work and Reforming ROA1974 in Scotland

In March 2014 the UK Government implemented new employment rights to people with criminal convictions by reducing the length of time until most convictions are deemed spent. These changes covered England and Wales only. The consultation to change this legislation was launched in Scotland on 20th May 2015.

Findings from Recruit With Conviction action research workshops show that disclosure of even minor criminal conviction can escalate anxiety in the mind of recruiters and this often leads to unfair and unreasonable de-selection. Similarly people with minor convictions often adopt avoidance behaviours when confronted with questions about criminal record disclosure and seek employment in situations where they are not asked, therefore diminishing their own opportunities for suitable employment.

By comparing unemployment trends between Scotland and the UK we hope to illustrate this point.

graph
graph

This graph which was created using data from ONS. It shows a clear trend of Scotland performing ahead of the UK for male unemployment until March 2014 and then lagging behind after Westminster reduced disclosure requirements in England and Wales. This is interesting because it is consistent with Recruit With Conviction findings. Men are 3 times more likely to have a criminal conviction than women and convictions correlate much more closely with unemployed people.
Reports (1) on 31 May 2015 show that Scotland has the lowest female unemployment rate in Europe.

Using big social data like this creates risks for bad social science because causality is rarely able to be defined in correlations. So while this graph neatly illustrates a point the qualitative evidence and the logic is more compelling. There are always many competing factors and the policies of targeting resources for female employment in Scotland is another likely contributing factor to the performance of men and women in the Scottish labour market.

It should be noted that while females with criminal convictions are less statistically significant, criminal conviction disclosure for woman is even more stigmatising and previous convictions have greater impact in the labour market for women individually.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-32950469

Family firms and the community conscience

I recently saw a pigeon with a missing left foot at 2 different times and in 2 different places on the same day. The suffering of this pigeon invoked a bit of compassion in my hardened heart and the co-incidence was a challenge to basic logic and reasoning. Other inexplicable observations can nag me a little more.

During working visits to Italian and Romanian justice organisations over the last couple of years, I have asked prison officers about prisoners refusing family visits. One of the Romanian officers replied that refusing a family visit would immediately invoke a psychological support referral because something serious must be wrong. Each response suggested to me that refusing family visits was something of a rarity in Italy and Romania.

It has left me with one of those nagging inexplicable observations because this appears to be inconsistent with what I hear in the UK about prisoners refusing family visits.

Perhaps my perceptions about the UK are grossly inaccurate and perhaps some foreign aspects may have been lost in translation or obscured by prison politics. I’ve got no groundbreaking evidence, just a distracting rumination about a perceived inconsistency.

Refusing a family visit might be a symptom of severe depression and institutionalisation or it might also be a response to an argument or dispute.

I asked an Italian sociologist, Rosario Palese from Fondazione Abacus, about my observation, and his explanation related to family ties being at the heart of both Italian and Romanian culture and that provided some context.

There is evidence that regular family visits are linked with reduced re-offending rates and there is also evidence that families make critical contributions to finding jobs, homes and maintaining relationships.

Logic dictates that resource to enable, promote and facilitate positive family contact for prisoners is a valuable investment of public money. There is also evidence of significant improvements for family contact with a number of innovations like video-links facilitated by Apex, the work of Storybook Dads and of course the excellent Families Outside services among others.

This leaves a simple question in my mind… “Why is there not a specific prisons KPI for family contact?”  I think it would provide more insightful information than the number of absconders or escapes. Connecting this to our work at Recruit With Conviction, we believe that positive family engagement probably makes the biggest single contribution to finding and sustaining work after prison.

It sounds simple but it also begs another question about all of those people in prison who have no positive family connections and the importance of our communities to be the surrogate families of citizens returning from prison. Many of whom are traumatised, lonely and vulnerable with less obvious scars than a one footed pigeon which might hobble into our life. Given a chance though, they may well surprise you with humility, humanity and honest hard work.

Richard Thomson, Director

Recruit With Conviction

 

 

What is unconscious bias?

Most people – men and women – hold unconscious biases about groups of people.

Depending on the discipline, unconscious biases can be referred to as; schemas, stereotypes, mental models, cognitive shortcuts, statistical discrimination, implicit associations and spontaneous trait reference.

It is the tendency of our minds to apply characteristics of groups (real or imagined) to our judgements about individual group members.

Recruit With Conviction workshops provide a safe environment for participants to discover their own unconscious bias and to learn how mental fatigue can lead to cognitive shortcuts and less objective decision making.

To book on to one of our workshops contact info@recruitwithconviction.org.uk

 

Reforming ROA 1974 – An Opportunity to Compete

Further delays to reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in Scotland would restrict the effectiveness of government policies on welfare to work, diversity, health and reducing re-offending .

The news on 20 May 2015 that the Scottish Government are consulting on proposals to change this is very welcome. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-32800432

Recruit With Conviction employer workshops consistently uncover bias when convictions are disclosed to recruiters. The employer workshops also show that recruiters need both empowerment and authorisation to select applicants who disclose their criminal convictions.

However, employers should be at the heart of designing safe and sustainable employment solutions, so we warmly welcome this approach by the Scottish Government to listen to the voices of the business community.

Beyond this, minor criminal convictions commonly correlate with long term unemployment and poverty – clearing minor convictions faster is a pragmatic solution to help more people find work and stay in work.

Changes to the 1974 Act were implemented in England and Wales on 10th March 2014. They generally shorten the length of time that convictions can be considered for the purpose of recruitment for most jobs.

The changes helped Tracy from Wigan. She was arrested for holding a small quantity of drugs at a music festival and fined £300 in court in April 2013 when she was a student.

Under the changes to the legislation in England and Wales, fines normally become spent after 1 year which was great for Tracy. She graduated in June 2014 and so she had full protection from discrimination on the grounds of her conviction when she applied for work.

However if Tracy had applied for a job in Scotland, then she would need to disclose this conviction for 4 more years under the terms of the 1974 Act.

1 in 3 men and 1 in 10 women of working have a criminal conviction and even minor historic convictions correlate with unemployment, underemployment and low pay as applicants gravitate to less formal employment where conviction information is not requested by employers.

Therefore reforming the 1974 Act will support the wider welfare to work strategy.

There is also a correlation with minor offences and poverty so the criminal conviction issue is a more common barrier to finding work for people in the poorest communities. To compound the problem, areas of high unemployment and deprivation make the dynamics of local labour market favour employers rather than applicants. Our experience of working with employers in different areas has demonstrated examples where more employers in Aberdeen are better prepared to accept people with complex convictions. In sharp contrast there are employers in North Ayrshire who use criminal record disclosures as an automatic de-selection tool because they receive too many applications.  Dr Colin Lindsay at Strathclyde University has also undertaken research which shows that employers deploy more diverse recruitment practices in areas of low unemployment.

The problem of de-selection also relates to spent convictions because filtering of minor convictions  do not apply for people with Scottish Convictions. This is a concern for anybody applying for a job which is exempt from the provisions of the 1974 Act. Care work is a common career aspiration and the failure of Scottish disclosure systems to filter out some of the irrelevant convictions causes another specific barrier.

While Tracy from Wigan was never a chaotic drug user, Brad from Liverpool has a history of chaotic drug use and was convicted a number of times for various minor offences. All of his convictions relate to periods of time when his drug use was at its worst.

Recruit With Conviction delivered training to a number of Drugs workers in Merseyside and set out opportunities where changes in the 1974 Act could be used as an incentive in recovery where many individuals have a long history of minor convictions and no prison sentences. With a short rehabilitation period, people in recovery can look forward to an achievable time frame when their record is (sort of) wiped clean. This is very powerful emotionally for people in recovery who harbour a deep sense of guilt about their past and it can be used positively. Of course any recovery plan needs to be personalised to an individual but there are clear opportunities for support workers to help bind things together positively.

Even when Brad had a relapse in August 2014, his support worker was able to establish that he’d not stolen anything and he’d not been arrested so his rehabilitation from the criminal system was still intact. Therefore he was able to refocus on drug recovery without having to start all over again and he has also found employment.

Even minor convictions can be a root cause of anxiety and self doubt present a number of barriers to recovery from addictions and mental health problems.

By enabling opportunities for people to compete for employment, people with convictions are more likely to find the right job.

The right job for the right person is a very effective intervention. It can stop the escalation of minor crime turning into more serious crime and it can also provide a valuable second chance for people with more serious convictions who are liberated from prison.

While core improvements need to be made in employer engagement and in employability support, legislative changes have the potential to make a critical contribution.

Note: In 2013 Recruit With Conviction facilitated a number of stakeholder discussion events on reforming the 1974 Act on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Employer relationships and stopping crime

A criminal record is not a reliable risk marker because usually it has no relevance to the job. The vast majority of people with criminal records will never be convicted again, however starting work can also be a catalyst for stopping crime.

“You make me want to be a better man” – is the line used in a moment of truth for Melvin Udall, a deviant character played by Jack Nicholson. These words must have resonated with a million men as they reflected on their relationships which mattered most.

Many working people can describe a boss who caused them sleepless nights and another boss who become their hero. At times your relationship with a boss can have a bigger impact on your wellbeing than your relationship with a spouse. Employer burdens, needs and contributions should also be recognised and this relationship contribution has not been investigated in much desistance research.

Stopping crime is a personal process of building resilience in a number of ways. It largely relies on honest and assertive relationships – not aggression or manipulation.

The ability to get a job and keep it is an indicator of going straight. The goal of getting a job can be interwoven with altruistic aspirations such as “to make my Mum proud” or “to look after my family”. Additionally, the job applicant might think “If I had a job, then I’d never do crime” but employers often consider “the time since the last offence” as evidence that an individual has “gone straight”. Many other factors contribute to the lack of job opportunities, including recruiter bias and anxiety about the criminal record stereotype.

The direct correlation between sustained employment and reduced crime is indisputable. Timpson Ltd is an open minded employer of people from prison in the UK and former prisoners account for 10% of their workforce. In total they have employed about 400 people from prison and only 4 of them ever returned to custody. On this evidence, the return to custody rate of Timpson employees is about 50 times less than average.

However an MOJ report (2) using a much larger group of prisoners, shows that any period of PAYE employment in the year after prison only reduces re-offending by 9.4 percentage points.

While the Timpson Ltd evidence is not compared against a control group, their outstanding success compared against welfare to work programmes may have been supported by a number of factors.

  1. Careful job matching of the right candidate to the right job in the right location. This compares well against welfare to work programmes using a range of sanctions and aggressive techniques against vulnerable people. (Of course healthy and strong people who are coasting may need pushed to reach their potential but this is very different)
  2. Integrated practical resettlement support from Timpson Ltd.
  3. Criminal record disclosure to Timpsons creates a bond of trust between the employee and employer whereas non-disclosure consistently creates a nasty surprise for employers, when they invariably find out. This contributes significantly to job attrition for former prisoners compared to much more sustainable employment in Timpson.
  4. The support of a number of pro-social relationships which are encouraged within the culture of Timpson Ltd.

James Timpson CEO of Timpson Ltd, describes his prison recruits as “superstars” and he is rewarded by loyalty. The bond of trust between bosses and employees with convictions is common in many other workplaces too. Statements from former prisoners in other companies include, “he saved my life” and “if it was not for her, I’d be a totally different person”. Similarly employers often report extraordinary experiences and cite stories of outstanding professional relationships with former prisoners.

People with convictions have also at times been abused and bullied in workplaces to such an extent that their aspirations for change are damaged by someone who has made them feel worthless. Sometimes these jobs are completely mismatched against their skills and expectations. Mismatched employment is a poor outcome for for employers too and serve to perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Some relationships “make me want to be a better man” and some relationships can be damaging. The role of family, friends and neighbours can be helpful or harmful. Similarly, the right job is helpful but the wrong job is harmful, so let’s listen to employers and people with convictions and create solutions for sustainable employment which benefit everyone, including those employers which recruit with conviction.

 

  1. James Timpson Recruit With Conviction Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtmK5vl5ks0
  2. Analysis of the impact of employment on re-offending following release from custody, using Propensity Score Matching: MOJ 2013

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/217412/impact-employment-reoffending.pdf

Enforced Subject Access – Practicalities

Recruit With Conviction warmly welcomes the commencement of the Data Protection Act Section 56, which criminalises the practice of enforced subject access relating to criminal records for the purpose of employment or the provision of services from 10 March 2015.

This is quite distinct from using disclosure certificates appropriately.

In our broad experience of working with employers and employability advisers, we have seen a remarkable decrease in any evidence relating to enforced subject access for the purposes of employment.

While it is ironic that an employer can now pick up a criminal conviction for forcing a job applicant to inappropriately disclose theirs, employers which adopt Recruit With Conviction approaches will have no problems.

We have been discussing this with the Information Commissioner’s Office and there is a broader and more complicated impact for employability advisers. The criminal record subject access information is a valuable tool in the Apply With Conviction approach but advisers will be committing a criminal offence if they ask for it in an inappropriate manner.

Within all Apply With Conviction workshops we highlight the confidentiality of criminal conviction information and the respect with which it should be handled as well as the right use of language to talk about criminal record subject access with service users.

Quite clearly criminal record information is very sensitive. It belongs to the service user and it is their choice to share subject access with anyone. It should always be clear that this is not a condition of participating in a service and is in no way linked to their benefit entitlement.

Extract from Information Commissioner’s Guidance (1)
An individual who requires someone to make a subject access request is committing a criminal offence. This is an offence which can be heard either by a magistrates court or a crown court, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland it will be heard in a sheriff court.

Committing such an offence in England and Wales can carry an unlimited fine, while in Scotland the fine
can be unlimited if heard under solemn procedure or £10,000.

In Northern Ireland, the maximum fine if convicted under a summary offence is £5000, or if convicted on indictment the maximum fine is unlimited (unless expressly limited by statute).

(1) https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1042608/enforced-subject-access-s56.pdf

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

http://recruitwithconviction.org.uk/universal-universities/

 

(1) One Scotland – Programme for Government  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/11/6336/5

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 info@recruitwithconviction.org.uk

“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.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/304411/experimental-statistics.pdf