Hiring ex-offenders is good for society – and good for business too
10 per cent of Timpson's workforce is made up of people who have either been directly recruited from prison or have an offending background | Adobe Stock
In 2002, I was invited to visit a prison in the north-west. Given that it was my first time visiting a prison, it’s fair to say I didn’t really know what to expect.
When I arrived, I was welcomed and shown around by a young man named Matt who was serving a four-year sentence for a drugs offence. Matt was very intelligent and articulate; I liked him immediately. It was then that I thought that Matt would make a great addition to the Timpson business. I gave Matt a business card and asked him to contact me when he was released, in order that I could offer him a job as part of our high street shoe repair chain.
A few months later, Matt was released from custody, got in touch and I offered him a position in a local Timpson store. From this moment on, I realised there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of potentially great candidates like Matt, who just needed a second chance.
It was at this moment that Timpson began to pro-actively recruit ex-offenders into the business. Timpson are now one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK, and seen by many as the experts in recruiting from this cohort. Approximately 10 per cent of the workforce is made up of people who have either been directly recruited from prison or have an offending background. This equates to approximately 650 people.
Incidentally, Matt still works for the business and is one of our most successful branch managers.
The taxpayer also benefits, as re-offending is reported to cost in excess of £18bn per year
As a business we have strong social values and kindness, and compassion, underpin our culture. We believe we have a responsibility to help those who find themselves marginalised and have barriers to employment. Evidence would suggest that employment is a key factor in reducing re-offending. It’s been proven that people are less likely to re-offend if they have full time employment. As a result, we believe that anything we can do as a business to help break the offending cycle and stop people being sent back to prison has got to be a positive thing. Not only is it good for the individuals concerned, but more generally it makes our communities safer and creates fewer victims. Everybody wins. The taxpayer also benefits, as re-offending is reported to cost in excess of £18bn per year.
However, it’s not just the societal benefits that drives our approach: we believe that recruiting ex-offenders has been great for business.
There are an estimated 11 million people in the UK with a conviction more serious than a driving offence. To throw such a large portion of the population on the employment scrap heap, and assume they are inherently dishonest and have nothing to offer, just doesn’t make sense to us. By focusing not on a person’s past but instead looking at what they can achieve in the future allows us to recruit some very talented people. The vast majority of the people we recruit from prison are extremely loyal, very hardworking and are often more honest that those recruited through more conventional channels. They bring with them a wealth of experience and a degree of personal resilience, all of which enables them to make a valuable contribution to our organisation.
Timpson now works closely with other employers and advises them how to safely and effectively recruit from this cohort. Over the years we have seen first-hand the truly positive, transformative power that employment can have on an individual. I think it is safe to say employing ex-offenders has been one of best business decisions I have ever made.
Chief executive of Timpson and chair of the Prison Reform Trust