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Prisoners Could Fill Employers’ Vacancies After Brexit

Prisoners Could Fill Employers’ Vacancies After Brexit

hiring offenders

Justice Secretary David Gauke has suggested that British prisoners could be employed to fill the gap in the workforce after Brexit, while launching a new strategy to improve convicts’ future employment prospects.

In a speech delivered at HMP Isis Young Offenders detention centre in London, Mr Gauke acknowledged that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is “likely to have an impact on the workforce,” particularly “in sectors such as catering, construction and agriculture.”

Yet despite concerns from employers in these industries, the Justice Secretary says that the loss of foreign national workers in lower-skilled roles is “an opportunity” for “prisoners and employers” to help each other, as the government unveils new plans to help offenders find employment, both whilst and after serving their sentences.

Significantly, the plans include an expansion of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) scheme, which enables prisoners nearing the end of their sentences to take work placements outside of prison, in a bid to ease inmates’ transition back into the community.

The use of ROTL has been scaled back in recent years following a number of high-profile cases in which inmates committed offences while on day release.

However, the government maintains that its proposals will benefit the economy – both by bolstering the post-Brexit workforce and tackling high rates of recidivism. Some 44.2% of former adult prisoners reoffend within a year of their release, costing the state £15bn a year. Research suggests that ex-offenders in employment are nearly 10% less likely to re-offend than those who cannot find a job.

Incentives for employers hiring ex-offenders

According to the government, employers also stand to benefit from the measures.

Mr. Gauke said of the move: “Expanding the use of early release for work will mean employers will be able to fill the short-term skills gap . . . We’ve got employers struggling to find people. Now is an opportunity to [solve] that.”

Under the government’s new Education and Employment Strategy, employers who hire previous offenders for permanent roles could be rewarded with National Insurance “holidays.”

An independent New Futures Network body has been established to act as “an informed and honest broker” between prisons and potential employers and create a hub for matching employers with suitable prisoners for training schemes and future, permanent roles.

ROTL prisoners on temporary work placements are treated as normal employees, earning wages with tax and insurance deductions, with some of their pay going towards funds for victims of crime.

Meanwhile in the public sector, a scheme may be established to provide a fast-track to fixed-term roles in the civil service for prior offenders who have served their sentence.

Within prisons, a new vocational training route called the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway will boost inmates’ employability by ensuring “more on the job training and vocational qualifications” is incorporated into traditional prison jobs.

Local governments will also be able to choose the types of education offered in their prisons, to ensure that skills training is “tailor[ed] to meet the needs of local employers and the local labour market.”

Calls to “Ban the Box” and “challenge employers” who discount ex-offenders

Alongside incentivising and facilitating prisoner employment with tax breaks and networking schemes, the government strategy to create “cultural change” amongst employers who are often reluctant to hire ex-offenders also involves stricter censure of those that do discriminate.

Mr Gauke says that he wants employees to “challenge their employers” and “call out” companies if ex-offenders are overlooked for vacant positions.

The government itself has joined the ‘Ban the Box‘ campaign and removed questioning regarding prior criminal offences from its preliminary job application forms.

Campaigners say that removing tick-box questions regarding candidates’ previous criminal records can avoid discouraging ex-offenders from applying and prejudicing recruiters against viable candidates.

British Chambers of Commerce head Jane Gratton says that the new scheme could prove a great benefit to employers by “boost[ing] the talent pool in the workforce” and “enabl[ing] regional economies to thrive.”

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