Most companies appear willing to consider employing ex-cons.
Would your company employ a convicted criminal? The Rainer Foundation, a national charity supporting young offenders, asked 115 organisations in the City, Islington and Hackney whether they currently employed any offenders or ex-offenders. The majority (60%) did not and another 23% apparently didn't know. However more than three quarters of the 'don'ts' and 'don't knows' claimed they were prepared to consider employing someone with a criminal record. Given that 75% of ex-offenders offend again, that response was mildly surprising, and - many would think - encouraging.
Mike Stewart, director of services at the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders says that the first reaction of most employers is that they don't want offenders working for them. 'Any personnel manager faced with 100 applications will tend, on the first sift through, to put on one side people who admit to having a criminal record. Our job is to try and get employers to think past that, to look at their skills first then see if their record directly affects the position. If they were arrested for some sort of criminal damage five years ago, how relevant is that to somebody who wants to be a plumber, who has grown up and now has a family.' Jack Mahoney, professor of business ethics at the London Business School says that if they have paid their debts to society, ex-offenders should be helped to reintegrate, although there remains a problem over how reliable they might be in particular jobs. 'Suppose they had a record of stealing money, then I think one would keep them away from the till.' The retail chain Bentalls employs several ex-offenders. 'It depends very much on what they did wrong, how long ago, and the kind of person you're dealing with,' says personnel controller Jean Haines. 'We're a retail store, so if their offence was theft from a retail store we wouldn't consider them.' Liz Sadler, assistant manager in the employee relations department at Marks & Spencer, says that - human nature being what it is - disclosure of an offence on an application form is bound to be at the back of the mind of a manager looking for staff.
'But we wouldn't respond automatically that we're not even going to consider them. We would look at them as complete people, as complete individuals.' GKN takes much the same view. John Rugman, head of human resources, says that the group tries not to exclude arbitrarily any category of the population: 'We want to make sure that people are taking decisions on an informed basis, not on the basis of ill-informed stereotypes.' Public sector organisations are reputed to be particularly nervous about ex-offenders, fearing media exposure if anything goes wrong. Tony Giles recruited a couple of ex-offenders at Network South East when he was head of recruitment there. At that time the employer would not consider offenders 'in any shape or form'. Giles took on the two 'knowing that the only way to break down barriers was to take them on first and tell somebody later - I told the director six months later and from there on in I was able to run a pilot scheme.' Giles is now director of the Comeback Trust which helps ex-offenders to find jobs. 'At BR we put 60 offenders into work and not one of them re-offended. Five years on, 55 of them are still in place, which shows their level of commitment.' Surprisingly, perhaps, the Home Office, whose minister is ultimately responsible for the prison service, does not have an internal policy regarding employment of ex-offenders. 'Each application is considered on its merits,' says a spokesman. 'We have vetting procedures. We'd have to weigh the person and their criminal history against the post they were applying for.' It sounds as if many are singing off the same hymn sheet.