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