Courage of their convictions: employers urged to hire ex-cons

Understandably, employers remain reluctant to hire ex-offenders (would you?). Should the Government step in?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Oct 2010
When Ken Clarke floated the idea at the Conservative Party conference this week of paying prisoners to work a 40-hour week while they’re behind bars, there was a bit of an outcry. But one group reckons there's a more pressing issue for the Government to address: how to persuade reluctant companies to hire ex-offenders when they come out of prison. On the face of it, it seems hard to criticise anyone for refusing to hire a convicted murderer, say. But if everyone refuses to hire them, the consequences could be grave - and expensive...

The new report, by ‘employment and skills specialist’ Working Links, makes a convincing economic case for giving additional support to ex-offenders. Apparently, reoffending rates are ‘greatly reduced’ when people get a job – and considering re-offenders apparently cost the UK some £11bn a year, that could mean a lot of money saved.

The trouble is, employers - understandably - aren’t too happy about taking on people with criminal records. Apparently, more than half would use a disclosed conviction to reject an applicant outright, while only 18% of businesses have actually employed someone who they knew had a conviction. But there's no reason to think they'll get their fingers burned if they do: of those who have employed someone with a criminal record, only 7% say they’ve had negative experiences, while 60% say their ex-offenders have performed ‘as well’ as someone without a criminal record.

Of course, employers' willingness to hire someone with a record tends to fluctuate by conviction, as you'd expect: the majority tend to ignore driving and alcohol-related offences, for example, while 85% report that they’d rather not employ someone who has been convicted of murder (who knew?).

Working Links wants the Government to step in and find ways to help ex-offenders find jobs, including creating a new ‘Offender Discrimination Act’, and/ or offering employers financial incentives to take on ex-criminals.

We can see their point - arguably everyone deserves a second chance once they've served their time. But it's a complicated one: businesses are bound to see hiring a convicted thief or fraudster (say) as a risk - and you don't really want to be taking too many of those in the current climate...

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