Employment for women with criminal convictions

17 Feb 2015

On Tuesday 3rd February, PET attended the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on penal affairs, where the important topic for the meeting was employment for women with criminal convictions.Clare Taylor, PET's Policy Officer reports back from the event:

"At the meeting we heard from a number of speakers including: The Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, Minister of State for Female Offenders; Jocelyn Hillman the Founder and CEO of Working Chance, a charity working both with employers and women ex-offenders to support them into employment; two employees of Working Chance who had both previously spent time in prison as well as Jenny Earle, Director of Programmes to Reduce Women’s Imprisonment at the Prison Reform Trust (PRT).

New opportunities for women

Addressing the audience, Simon Hughes MP spoke about the work he had been involved in during the last fifteen months as the Justice Minister for Female Offenders and the different work that was going on in the twelve women’s prisons around the country.

Of particular interest was The Clink’s newest restaurant which will be housed just outside HMP Styal in a converted church. The project will train up to 28 women in food preparation and front of house service whilst studying NVQ qualifications that will support them in resettling back into their communities and finding future employment. This will be the fourth prison-staffed restaurant run by The Clink but the first to involve a women’s prison, giving women in Styal the opportunity to take advantage of the skills on offer. Earle highlighted earlier in the evening that women’s needs are often neglected due to them making up a much smaller proportion of the prison population. However now plans led by Hughes are underway to develop a new curriculum for women in prison which would focus on the development of life skills alongside core literacy and numeracy.

Maximising the potential of education

Hughes sent a clear message that more needs to be done to maximise the potential of education. For example, opportunities for progression are blocked at Level 2 learning with women getting ‘stuck half way up the ladder’. This is demotivating when women are passionate about pursuing a particular subject and career but can’t go any further. Lack of opportunities for progression was also an issue highlighted in our recent report, Brain Cells Third Edition, based on 350 survey responses from prisoner learners. Hughes also spoke about plans to link in more with local colleges to run Level 3 courses within women’s prisons as well as the importance of continuity when people leave prison, so that women are able to transfer credits from unfinished prison courses to colleges and learning centres in the community. Due to short sentence lengths of the majority of women prisoners, many may unfortunately not finish them.

Barriers to employment for women prisoners

Earle highlighted findings from a new briefing from PRT, Working it out, employment for women offenders. Statistics suggest that employment for women following short prison sentences are three times worse than for men with fewer than 10% of women having a job to go to on release. A particular challenge at the moment is the recent changes to the release on temporary license (ROTL) scheme, which are likely to impact disproportionately on women who levels of risk are generally lower than men’s but who are subject to the same restrictions as men. She highlighted the need for increased resources for supporting women into finding employment and getting well paid jobs. Earle also suggested the new Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, with extended support to prisoners serving sentences of under 12 months, are a good thing as long as that supervision does not constitute as an extra sentence to women.

Working Chance

Sharing her experience and knowledge of working with employers and supporting women into employment, Jocelyn Hillman made three key points:

  1. How important it is to draw women into mainstream employment and the relationship between this and re-offending rates. The re-offending rate for Working Chance clients is 4% compared with the national average of 45%[ii]. There are also many benefits for the families and children of the individual women.
  2. The importance of educating employers: Working Chance is now working with 33 mainstream employers including Virgin, Pret a Manger and most recently the NHS. Last year they placed 150 women into paid employment, internships and volunteering opportunities. They work hard to break down myths around women involved in the Criminal Justice System.
  3. Establishing a new norm: By employing women who have been to prison, employers are sending out a message to other employers which will hopefully influence them to do the same.

Hughes also highlighted part of his plans include seeking big employers to adopt one of the twelve women’s prisons and take responsibility for offering employment to women in their area.

Overall the event made it clear that women are firmly on the agenda at the moment and we will be keeping a close eye on developments in this area to ensure their needs continue to be prioritised."

[i] Ministry of Justice (2015) Population and Capacity briefing for Friday 16th January. London: Ministry of Justice.