Employment after prison

Employment is key to the Government’s ambition for a ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’. For people with a history of offending, one of the most effective ways of preventing reoffending and improving their chances of leading a better life is to find and keep a job.

Reoffending costs the economy somewhere in the region of £11 billion. But only 25% of men leave prison into some form of employment and the statistic for women is even lower at 20%. There is an emerging body of evidence that additional support, particularly that which follows them through the prison gate, is more likely to help ex-prisoners.

The levels of poor mental wellbeing in prisons are significant, with some 90% of prisoners having a drug/alcohol problem, personality disorder or other mental health problem. People with mental health problems in the system are routinely excluded from vocational rehabilitation programmes.

People who experience severe and enduring mental health problems have one of the lowest employment rates in the UK. Yet the vast majority want to work, and with the right support many people can. We know how to offer effective support to enable this to happen – Individual Placement and Support (IPS).

Testing IPS for offenders leaving prison

This project aims to implement IPS in completely new settings to learn how the model should be adapted to achieve successful outcomes for offenders with mental health problems.

This three-year project is being funded by Henry Smith Charity and the John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust and will be supported by an expert reference group.

We are proposing to test that IPS could achieve improved employment outcomes for this very neglected, and expensive, sub-group, at up to three sites in Shropshire and Staffordshire:

  • HMP Featherstone: a category C male resettlement and training prison;
  • HMP Drake Hall: a closed women’s prison that also provides a resettlement and training function;
  • HMPYOI Brinsford: a young offender institute for young adults (18-21 years).

Three employment specialists trained in IPS will work with the prison mental health teams (effectively as one of the team), but also in prison resettlement departments. They will begin engaging with prisoners at least 4 weeks before the earliest date of release and will offer through-the-gate support. The specialist would continue to work with both the released person, the receiving community mental health service and with employers post-release. It is anticipated that perhaps 200 released prisoners will be supported across the three prisons over the three years of the project.

Emerging evidence suggests that mentoring is a key component of successful resettlement. This project will include mentoring support for some of the people receiving this intervention to gauge its added value.

Beyond the Gate

Beyond the Gate is the result of an 18-month partnership programme that explored effective practice in this area. We worked with partner organisations which have demonstrated a commitment to supporting offenders and ex-offenders into employment, despite the challenges this poses. The organisations are:

  • BeOnSite: a not-for-profit subsidiary of private sector employer.
  • Brockfield House: a secure mental health unit.
  • Burnley Integrated Offender Management Unit: a police-managed community-based initiative.
  • Forestry Commission: a government agency and employer.
  • St Giles Trust: a third sector employer.
  • HMP Wandsworth: a prison.
  • West Yorkshire Probation: a probation area.

We visited prisons, probation services and other sites across the country to find examples of where offenders with mental health problems are being supported into paid work. We carried out in depth interviews with partners in the programme, offenders and ex-offenders and the agencies they work with. Along with the results of earlier research, we applied the evidence of what works outside the criminal justice system, with the experiences of those working within it, to achieve good outcomes to produce a set of five key elements of effective practice which it believes should be in place universally:

Elements of effective practice

  1. Employers should play an instrumental role in creating and developing opportunities for paid work for offenders.
  2. Recruitment needs to be pragmatic: on the basis of attitude and 'character' rather than qualifications or health status.
  3. Support should be offered to employees and their managers for as long as they need it.
  4. Opportunities for 'pre-employment' and 'in work' skills development should be linked to realistic employment opportunities: not training for its own sake.
  5. Criminal justice and other statutory agencies should facilitate effective pathways and access to real work and appropriate skills development while offenders are in the criminal justice system.

For more information about the employment of offenders project, please contact graham.durcan@centreformentalhealth.org.uk.


Beyond the Gate (Briefing 42)

Beyond the gate cover image It is possible to support people with mental health problems and offending histories into mainstream employment, from whichever part of the criminal justice system they are in.

Beyond the Gate uses real examples from employers, prisons and probation services across England to sets out five elements of effective practice in securing employment for offenders.


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Through the gate - Employment support at Wandsworth Prison

This article is based on an interview with a prisoner involved in the Employment support programme at HMP Wandsworth. It looks at the issues of employing offenders and how it can work.

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