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Behind bars
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25 years' experience, now struggling to find a job

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19th Oct 2015
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Paul served a short prison sentence earlier this year and is still on probation. Since leaving prison in June he has applied for countless jobs, but is struggling to get past the tick box. Prior to his sentence, Paul worked for over 25 years in the financial industry. Like many others, Paul is qualified, experienced and keen to put his past mistake behind him. If you're interested in 'Banning the Box' and helping ex-offenders get into employment following their release from prison, check out Business in the Community's Employer's Guide to Fair Recruitment of Ex-Offenders.

Why do you think the 'box' should be banned?

I feel that the tick box unfairly excludes ex-offenders from the workplace and prevents rehabilitation. There’s a lot of emphasis on rehabilitation when you’re in prison, but there’s hardly any support when you get out.

Instead, so many barriers are placed in the way of an ex-offender - making it very hard to re-integrate into society. The most important thing is being occupied in a job, as it provides structure and purpose while allowing you to make a contribution to the family and, more widely, society.

What's your general experience of looking for work since you were released?

Being in prison was a difficult experience, but it’s been harder since I got out. Since I was released I have been applying to jobs relentlessly in an effort to get my life back to normal for me and my family. I have applied to nearly 100 jobs in four months and I have only had one interview. With the jobs where I had to tick a box on the application form, I never even heard back.

It’s hard to know whether this is standard practice in recruitment these days, but it’s an incredibly frustrating experience as I feel I’m being written off at the very first stage. I’ve been open and upfront with recruiters and, in most cases, I’ve been made to feel like I’m wasting their time.

Any stories of particular judgemental employers?

No – as I’ve not been given the opportunity to get in front of them. But if I were to be given an opportunity, I would be open and transparent about the offence and my attitude towards it. My offence was a one-off and there will never be any chance of a repeat. There is no question that I have moved on and getting back into meaningful employment will be the next step on that journey.

On the flipside, any inspiring stories or employers you've run into?

Someone I met in prison, who is due to be released shortly, has been offered his job back by his former employer who told him that “everyone deserves a second chance”. It’s really encouraging to hear that there are employers like that out there.

That enlightened employer was a small business, but it seems to be that the bigger the company the more detached they are from their hiring decisions. By using a box to filter out ex-offenders at the application stage, it seems that large companies are washing their hands of their responsibility to society to help marginalised groups access the workplace.

Many of these ex-offenders will buy goods and services from these companies in the future – if they are good enough to be customers, why and they not good enough to be employees?

If they are good enough to be customers, why and they not good enough to be employees?

There have been a couple of occasions where I have applied for a job which does not have a formal application process – so no box to tick. On these occasions, I have disclosed my offence and found people to be open and willing to engage.

None of these conversations have yet resulted in a job offer, but even the experience of preparing for, and attending a meeting is a positive reinforcement that I could still have a contribution to make - somewhere.

Do you keep in touch with other ex-offenders and what are their stories like about trying to find work?

I met another guy in prison that worked for a FTSE 100 company and his job had also been kept open. When you hear stories like that you think it’s not that bad out there, but the reality has been very different for me. It seems there are a few exceptional employers that are willing to give people a second chance, but majority can’t see past a one-time mistake. 

What skills, attitudes, values do you think ex-offenders bring to the workplace that others don't?

I can honestly say that the employer that gives me a chance will get complete loyalty and commitment, more than ever before. Obviously, everyone is different but I think a lot of ex-offenders are determined to put their past behind them and are willing to work hard to do that.

When you’re in prison, you have a lot of time to reflect on your actions and figure out what to do differently. You also learn to be resilient as you have a lot to put up with in prison.

Replies (7)

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By clive boorman
20th Oct 2015 14:07

What an interesting article. It must be totally frustrating, however, thinking about my experiences in recruitment; larger organisations tend to mitigate against the worst case scenario and are very protective of brand/reputaion and would see this as a potential for a tarnish to that - whether that's right or wrong is part of the debate, I guess. The other thing I thought of was that of course any ex-offender wanting to get a job would always say that it won't happen again; whether that was their genuine intention or not - how would an employer know this without taking a complete leap pf faith. My suggestion would be to consider volunteering; this may not actually provide an income but would potentially put you into a situation wher you could prove that you are trustworthy - you never know you may even get access to paid employment in the voluntary sector. My friend, although not an ex-offender, was struggling to find work and started volunteering as a driver for a charity given people with disabilities days out. He used this as a springboard into a career into the ambulance service and eventually as a paramedic which was totally different to the office supply sales job he'd been doing. The point is it built up his credability and trustworthyness (if that's a word)

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Shonette new
By Shonette
21st Oct 2015 10:27

A very good point Clive - trust is an important issue and I agree that volunteering not only establishes that a person can be relied on, but in my experience volunteering positions involve less pressure than a full time role, so it could be a good way to ease someone back into the workplace. It's also a good opportunity to get into a new industry or sector and see if it's something you enjoy.
However, there are the usual concerns that those who are already struggling to find work could find themselves in a continual cycle of voluntary work - so it's important to have an idea of how a role could progress before you start.

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By birdwood
21st Oct 2015 22:18

In corporate worlds, you'll be seen as the stupid one who got caught. My integrity failure in the Navy led to resolve to uphold standards - and a whistleblow against endemic criminal corruption in my next employer. Dismissed, unemployed 3.8years. No place for reformed cons in biz, sorry!

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Replying to birdwood:
Shonette new
By Shonette
22nd Oct 2015 10:23

Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience - I definitely think that trusting & protecting employees is an area of company culture that needs to be worked on, especially in the case of whistleblowing. I also think that the nature of the ex offender's crimes is an important one for any business, as anything violent or to do with fraud is always going to be a very difficult one for any employer to see beyond in the first instance, especially if they're up against candidates who have no criminal history.

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By clive boorman
23rd Oct 2015 09:55

Interesting point Shonette; I thinl you could stay in a cycle of only voluntary work if you stayed static. What I would advocate is using the voluntary postion to network. In my experience there is plenty of networking opporunities; lots of events and groups and it's about netwroking, getting out and about and building up your own brand. One lady I saw, when working in the voluntary sector; was an ordinary mum who's husband was in prison and she started her own charoty to support the families of offenders who were often treated like they were criminals. What about pursuing the option of getting funding and starting a charity that's comitted to finding work for ex-offenders. Or finding work with ex-offenders groups that may be doing the same thing. That might be hugely rewarding. Additionally, if people take a voluntary position; they can still apply for jobs outside of that sector plus they would be able to say that they already had a job and were trustworthy. Most people diownplay voluntary work on their CV's but it's still legimate work in a worthwhile sector.

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Replying to clive boorman:
Shonette new
By Shonette
26th Oct 2015 17:34

Absolutely agree that people downplay voluntary work - perhaps as it is seen as more valuable both by candidates and employers (incidentally, do you think the Volunteering section in LinkedIn profiles and increased charity activities within organisations is helping with this?) we'll also see an increase in the amount of volunteering done across the workforce. I definitely think more charities to support ex-offenders in finding employment can only be a good thing!

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Replying to Shonette:
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By clive boorman
27th Oct 2015 08:31

Not sure if the LinkedIn section has much impact - the issue with LinkedIn is that the volunteering section is further down the list on your profile. It would be good if you could tailor your linkedin profile and be able to customise what was presented to high-light the things one wanted to.

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