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Friday, 09 March 2012 11:46

Cash incentives to find jobs for ex-offenders

Written by  Jonathan Lord
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Richard Branson Ex offenders Richard Branson Ex offenders
Companies and charities are to receive 5,600 each time they get an ex-prisoner back into work and keep them employed for more than two years, the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.

Under a scheme revealed by ministers on Tuesday, anyone leaving prison in England, Wales and Scotland and claiming jobseekers' allowance will be referred to the government's work programme on "day one" of their release.

The move forms part of wider efforts to reduce reoffending by getting prisoners to work a 40-hour week while in custody to prepare them for the routine and discipline of taking a job once their sentence is complete. The idea was first mooted in the aftermath of the summer riots when Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said inmates would be "met at the prison gates" by work programme officials who would help them to avoid the "dismal cycle of repeat crime".

The plan follows a lengthy project between the DWP and the Ministry of Justice to share information about prisoner releases and benefit claims. Official figures released on Tuesday show nearly half of offenders released in 2008 were on unemployment benefits two years later. Those who claim jobseekers' allowance on leaving prison spend on average 40 per cent more time on benefits over the next three years than the average claimant.

Chris Grayling, employment minister, said that former inmates were left in a dangerous limbo as soon as they left prison because they were not eligible for benefits until a week after they had been released.

"What we know is that all prisoners leaving prison intend to look for a job, but very few actually do it, so we need to have a much more structured system to help them," Mr Grayling told the BBC.

When asked whether it was unfair to help prisoners when there were 1m young unemployed, Mr Grayling said it was better for society to rehabilitate former criminals. "It's in all of our interests to ensure we help ex-prisoners get jobs because 60 per cent of those who come out and don't get jobs reoffend within a year," he said.

Mr Grayling added that it was up to work programme providers to identify employers who would be willing to give ex-offenders a "second chance". "[Former criminals] are, in our experience, loyal employees who will do a good job for the employer," he said.

Richard Branson has actively encouraging his Virgin group of companies to employ people freshly released from prison, and even some who are still inside and working towards release. "Everybody deserves a second chance," he says, speaking by phone from Necker Island, his private Caribbean hideaway. "A lot of people end up in there [prison] because they've had a lot of bad luck in their lives."

For the last two years, one of the UK's wealthiest and most high-profile businessmen has been suggesting to the managing directors of hundreds of Virgin companies that they take on ex-offenders. The numbers are sketchy "It's early days", says Branson but in the UK, the charity Working Chance has placed female ex-prisoners with Virgin Management. Virgin is also taking on male ex-offenders.

On the problem of disclosing a criminal record very few people get an interview once they have ticked the criminal convictions box on a job application form he says: "It sounds like something we should look at, perhaps we should have a clause in our applications stating that Virgin does not hold a criminal record against applicants and that, on the contrary, we will try to help where that is the case. I'd be very happy to go that far."

Branson was prompted to employ ex-offenders after spending a day in a high-security prison in Melbourne, Australia, two years ago, following an invitation from his friend and Comic Relief creator, Jane Tewson. "Jane is known for championing unpopular causes," he says. "She wanted me to see the work that was being done to get prisoners into work after prison and to see why it was so important."

Last modified on Friday, 09 March 2012 11:53
Jonathan Lord

Jonathan Lord

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