Employment with a Criminal Record: A View From The Front Line

Kate Beech, Managing Director of Chance 2013 writes a guest post for Prison UK: An Insider's View. 
  • (This guest post has been contributed by Kate Beech who is the Managing Director of Chance 2013, a national employment agency that recruits for employers from only among people who have a criminal record. The views expressed below are Kate’s and there is no commercial relationship between Chance 2013 and Prison UK: an Insider’s View).

In 2013 I set up Chance 2013 as an employment agency exclusively for people with a criminal record. Oh boy, was I naïve at the start. I had no experience of the criminal justice system and had never even been inside a prison until 2012. So you may ask: why on earth did I start it? I have to admit that I’ve thought that myself many times when let down by yet another potential client who changes their mind about giving people a chance or when a potential candidate for a job doesn’t turn up for interview or else fails a routine drug test.

Naïveté made me think that Probation (both NPS and the CRCs) would welcome me with open arms as part of their rehabilitation role must surely be to help with employment. I was so wrong. After three years there are still many probation officers who claim to have nobody on their caseload who is looking for work. I’m not saying that they are all bad but it seems that a significant proportion are not interested in helping those they supervise and are merely ticking boxes. The work programme providers are a mixed bunch as well, even though there are vast amounts of money involved to get their clients into work.

Getting involved with the criminal justice sector and seeing how it works is fascinating. Why can some prisons offer opportunities for prisoners to obtain useful qualifications and tickets such as Personal Track Safety (PTS) or Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, when other establishments seem horrified at the idea and continue with courses that are as useful on the outside as a chocolate teapot?

PTS card: required to work on the rails
We’re talking to prisons about courses that would be helpful on release and have the trainers ready, but surely that isn’t really our job? There is an acute skills shortage in many areas including engineering, civil engineering and construction so WHY aren’t more prisons addressing this as a priority, thus enabling people to find legitimate paid work quickly on release? Since finding and keeping gainful employment is recognised as a major factor in reducing reoffending after release from custody, then surely it is an obvious way forward.

Getting a job is difficult for many these days, but it can be nearly impossible if you’ve got a criminal record. Even the most self-confident individuals can feel intimidated and be made to feel stupid by the very young, often inexperienced advisors at Job Centres.

JobCentre Plus: not always pleasant
I had the misfortune of having to sign up with a local Job Centre 25 years ago and the person who I had to deal with was probably one of the nastiest that I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. The truly shocking fact is that the staff do not appear to be any better in 2016, even with all the training and support they get prior to dealing with their clients. Going to sign on is not a pleasant experience for anyone who wants to work and having to disclose an unspent conviction must make it even worse.

It’s all fine and good for the directors or owners of large corporations and businesses to say that they support the current ‘ban the box’ campaign and that they have no problem with taking on employees who have a criminal record, but the actual person - perhaps relatively low down in the business HR department - who handles the initial application may not be aware of this policy. Why can’t we as a society be more grown up about this and accept that when someone’s sentence, whether custodial or non-custodial, has been served it’s time to move on and put it in the past where it belongs? Hopefully, our agency removes barriers that include having to write disclosure letters - we’re not interested in them - and our clients aren’t either, as they trust us to put forward appropriate candidates for the vacancies.

Banning the Box: does HR know?
Now that we’re working with reputable, well-known local and national companies yet another issue has arisen. It’s always been a case of which to concentrate on first: the candidates or the jobs? However, now we’ve got stacks of jobs on offer where are the candidates? Statistics I’ve found seem to show, maybe incorrectly, that there are approximately 250,000 people being supervised by Probation or CRCs at any one time, so again I ask, how can we reach them and help put them on the path to legal employment?

Advertising vacancies only open to those with criminal records could be seen as discriminatory, yet at the same time many companies and employers can still discriminate against those with unspent convictions. And it’s not only those who have more recent convictions who may need help. How many of the 9.2 million people in the UK with a criminal record are stuck in a job they hate or are too well-qualified for because they are afraid to rock the boat and fear the possibility of their past history with the criminal justice system coming to light? With enhanced checks how relevant is it that an applicant for a role as a carer was caught shoplifting 20 years ago?

We’re having success stories and here are just a few I’d like to share with blog readers:

The first guy we placed 2 years ago with a very well known civil engineering firm has just been promoted, with a large increase in salary. He is so different now and has grown in confidence immensely. Life is great for him and he’ll be their managing director in the future (well, I have to keep him on his toes!)

DT - started with another civils company on a trial basis for three months. After a couple of weeks they were so impressed with his work that they started sending him on courses. He’s now working full time with them and loving the job. He says we’ve not only changed his life, but also those of his children. I ask you, can there be any better reward than that?

PS & MC are now fully trained “superstars” (according to their bosses) in traffic management. Again following a three-month trial period they’re now both working full-time and will go far I’m sure. They now also have qualifications which should mean they’re never out of work again.

So to end. Where are the enthusiastic candidates for the positions Chance 2013 are seeking to fill for our clients? My absolute mission is to prove once and for all that people with a criminal record are no different than those without and will prove to be an asset to an employer. Before you shout, of course there may be some failures, but surely that’s just life and is the same for any employment agency.

On a personal note I’m so proud of every success and keep in touch with everyone who has been placed by our agency. Anyone who fails or is struggling continues to get our support, as well as that of the charities and agencies we link with. We don’t want anyone to just slip unnoticed back into old ways just because there is nobody there to help.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

4 comments to ''Employment with a Criminal Record: A View From The Front Line"

  1. A few years ago I had cause to employ a young guy to replace a worker who was leaving for pastures new. This young bloke was a terrific worker, well liked by the staff and the general public with which he was in regular contact. I had him on probation for 3 months and was more than delighted to keep him with us.

    Until the mandatory police check came back.

    Apart from Murder/Manslaughter there wasn't much left off his list. I brought him in to my office and asked him about it. He said he was a young dumb kid running with the wrong crowd when he was younger and he wanted to get his life together and make something of his life. I was convinced he was genuine and wanted to give him a go....but my higher ups wanted him escorted off site immediately.

    Gutted for him. My boss said if he had been honest up front he may have worked something out to which I said, "If he'd been honest he wouldn't have got a look in at the start"

    Catch 22. Still annoys me that one.

  2. I applied to the North West regional College in Derry to teach English and declared my wrap sheet up front. It is 30 years now since I was convicted of anything. How time goes by. It was painful putting it on paper I have to 'confess'. A real depressing couple of minutes. Looking at it I thought that will be put aside and forgotten. Low and behold I was called for interview a month or so later. But I had already accepted a position elsewhere at the time. I checked their employment requlations and declaring convictions up front is seemingly considered a positive. It gave me a great boost and no mistake. My diploma BA-MA possible PHD may not be in vain after all. Although when I drove a taxi in the north I had to divulge my convictions for that in the 90s. I sent the lisence form back saying none, they duely sent the form back saying please state your convictions. I did and they sent me my lisence. WTF lol. Seems they are worried about Paedos and Garry Glitter driving kids to school. Murder, paramilitarism, armed robberies and the like are not considered a threat to society there as every ex jailbird was driving a taxi. Which means Mackers you can drive a taxi but the Adams family may stick with politics.

  3. Larry,

    Is there not a time limit back there for how far you have to go back? 30 years is ages, you should be able to expunge them? North Street in Belfast still the same with Provo black taxi's on one side and UDA taxi's on the other? Always made me laugh that.

    "Murder, paramilitarism, armed robberies and the like are not considered a threat to society there as every ex jailbird was driving a taxi."

    In effect an acknowledgment the conflict was politically motivated.

  4. Steve Ricardos

    I agree that it was an 'aknowledgement' of sorts and also that 30 years is a long time to carry that shit around. There was certainly a need for vetting regarding driving kids or vulnerable adults about town and in fairness I believe the authorities got that by and large correct. Also although I am obviously biased it would indeed be helpful that these mistakes and if anyone doesn't feel the troubles were a mistake at this stage then just take a look at the SF leadership and their CVs and tell me you'd do it al again. Or maybe they want someone elses kids to do it all again?. It could be helpful that if not erased then perhaps dated convictions could remain undisclosed for employment purposes. Knowing what we do now about elements of the RUC/SB running serial killers and letting dozens of their own agents go helplessly to certain deaths, it is sickening to think these scum could move on to other police forces with glowing references. Someone jailed for an armed robbery in their twenties for example or an assault/fight in their teens can be hamstrubg forever. A bit crazy to say the least.


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