A stable job reduces the likelihood of someone re-offending by around one third and is one of the key things that our clients tell us that would keep them crime free. However, people with a criminal record continue to face real difficulties when they try to enter the workforce. Christian Douglas works as a caseworker on our SOS Project, managing a heavy caseload of young offenders who need intense support. Despite his skills and aptitude, he struggled to find work upon when he was released from prison. Here he tells his story and provides insights into the kind of difficulties his clients face.
"At HMP Latchmere (a category D open prison), unlike many other prisons we were given the opportunity to go out and apply for jobs and education to prepare for your release. Even in this fortunate position, getting a job is a big, big challenge.
Firstly, all the bigger companies have an online application process. This creates barriers as it doesn’t give you the opportunity to properly present yourself. Even guys who had been CEOs and with degrees were struggling. Once you declare on an online application that you have a criminal conviction, you get sifted out. I never got a response from any of those companies. A lot of the jobs that I was getting interviews at were where I had direct personal contact as you can present yourself straight away.
The kind of jobs where you got opportunities (as an ex-offender) were bricklaying, construction, warehouse work. However, most of the guys have skills, experience and qualifications way beyond this. A lot of people come out (of prison) to debts and commitments and these jobs don’t pay much. For me this is how guys get caught up in a cycle of re-offending, as they get knock back after knock back.
With some of the lower income jobs, you ask how long they are going to last and if you are better off on benefits after paying all your bills. Then if you take up a low income job and find it doesn’t cover your income, you were faced with the temptation of ‘do you go back to selling drugs’ for that extra cash.
Things get even worse when I look at it from the perspective of my current clients. When they come out they are very keen to get into work and are willing to do low end jobs. But there is a lot of competition at the moment and they often have no qualifications, no experience and a criminal record. Employers would rather not take the risk over someone with a clean record who just wants to get on with some work.
If you’ve served over four years, you have to disclose your offence for the rest of your life. If you have committed certain offences like robbery and drugs offences there are certain jobs which you can’t do at all. Working for the NHS, social work, banking, working in finance, some management jobs – basically there is no second chance with these. What annoys me is that people have finished their sentence they are then released to another sentence.
People talk about discrimination but there is nothing there to protect ex-offenders from being discriminated against, particularly those who are keen to change. You re-educate yourself and for what? I think it’s a big shame."
Christian Douglas, Caseworker, St Giles Trust's SOS Project