Bridging the gap between prison leavers and employment

"We just want them to have the same chances as everybody else."

After struggling with addiction, poor decisions, loan sharks and gambling, Richard Brice found himself facing a two year jail sentence. Having served eight months inside, he came out with a desire to help other offenders.

Richard Brice left prison “ambitious for social change”, and was the driving force behind Clean Slate Solutions, a Teesside charity which aims to bridge the gap between prison leavers and employers. 

Following his release, he has gone on to help other prison leavers secure employment, with one of his first referrals being someone he shared a cell with.

Since their establishment in April 2019, Clean Slate Solutions has helped 164 people into paid employment and 17 into further education. 

They have received funding from a range of philanthropic organisations as well as the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

“[In my past there was] no crime, no criminal activity, no childhood trauma, and nothing would have suggested I would end up in prison,” Richard said. 

Richard told Work with Offenders how nonetheless he went on to struggle to fund an addiction in his 30s – pawning possessions and eventually moving onto loan sharks.  

He found himself in the Crown Court facing a two year sentence. He served eight months in jail and four and a half months on a curfew tag. 

A few months before his release in December 2018, the ‘Education and Employment Strategy’ was published with a focus from the government on using education and employment to prevent re-offending. Richard came across the strategy in one of the prison’s papers. 

“It started the ball rolling in my mind. I was ambitious, dynamic, whatever, all that was still in me.” he said. 

“Surely there was going to be someone who had a directory of all the Timpsons in the world, I thought, it must be more than Timpson, surely someone’s got a local network of these.

“[When I got out], I picked up some names and starting approaching employers directly. I got loads of ‘no’s loads of emails ignored […] But if I get one yes for every ten, that just means I need to speak to 100 to get 10.” 

Clean Slate Solutions now works with a number of employers, including Greggs and Timpson, who are open to hiring ex-offenders. The charity get referrals through from probation services, prisons and job centres and they mentor ex-offenders through hiring processes. The team are a mix of those with lived experience and those without. 

Prior to any interview, the charity speak with the potential employer to give the details of the candidate’s conviction history in order that the candidate does not have to explain all of that in the interview. 

The charity do not work with sex offenders or high risk offenders, and only put candidates forward to employers once they believe they are in a stable enough position to be able to hold down a steady job. 

“The people we help have got to have a desire to work. We shouldn’t be talking you into it, you should be talking us into it […] We’re here to fit into the journey at the right time, not the wrong time,” he said. 

“There’s never been a better time to get a job with a past conviction. The government are driving things through with the New Future’s Network, although they don’t mentor the ex-offenders as we do. 

“Employers have more social conscience for this than ever before.

“I don’t want them to treat ex-offenders differently – it’s not right that, for example, 10 positions have been made expressly for ex-offenders, that’s not what it’s about. 

“We just want them to have the same chances as everybody else. 

“[At the end of the day], if they’ve got money in their pocket, there’s less chance of them stealing, dealing, loaning, using drugs.” 

Ministry of Justice figures suggest that re-offending currently costs the tax payer £18 billion, while ex-offenders in jobs are nine percentage points less likely to commit further crime. 

Separate from the charity, the government’s own scheme New Futures Network currently works with 400 employers, advising them on the benefits of employing ex-offenders and the process of identifying suitable candidates. 

Employment Advisory Boards were also launched in 2021, as a way of connecting employers with prisons to ensure offenders can use their time in jail to build up skills that could lead them into employment once they leave. 

The target is to have the boards in all 91 resettlement prisons by April 2023. 

Clean Slate Solutions currently works in North Yorkshire and Teesside.

Source: Cachella Smith for Work With Offenders 11/09/2023

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