Paul served a short prison sentence earlier this year and is still on probation. Since leaving prison in June he has applied for countless jobs, but is struggling to get past the tick box. Prior to his sentence, Paul worked for over 25 years in the financial industry. Like many others, Paul is qualified, experienced and keen to put his past mistake behind him. If you’re interested in ‘Banning the Box’ and helping ex-offenders get into employment following their release from prison, check out Business in the Community’s Employer’s Guide to Fair Recruitment of Ex-Offenders.
Why do you think the ‘box’ should be banned?
I feel that the tick box unfairly excludes ex-offenders from the workplace and prevents rehabilitation. There’s a lot of emphasis on rehabilitation when you’re in prison, but there’s hardly any support when you get out.
Instead, so many barriers are placed in the way of an ex-offender – making it very hard to re-integrate into society. The most important thing is being occupied in a job, as it provides structure and purpose while allowing you to make a contribution to the family and, more widely, society.
What’s your general experience of looking for work since you were released?
Being in prison was a difficult experience, but it’s been harder since I got out. Since I was released I have been applying to jobs relentlessly in an effort to get my life back to normal for me and my family. I have applied to nearly 100 jobs in four months and I have only had one interview. With the jobs where I had to tick a box on the application form, I never even heard back.
It’s hard to know whether this is standard practice in recruitment these days, but it’s an incredibly frustrating experience as I feel I’m being written off at the very first stage. I’ve been open and upfront with recruiters and, in most cases, I’ve been made to feel like I’m wasting their time.
Any stories of particular judgemental employers?
No – as I’ve not been given the opportunity to get in front of them. But if I were to be given an opportunity, I would be open and transparent about the offence and my attitude towards it. My offence was a one-off and there will never be any chance of a repeat. There is no question that I have moved on and getting back into meaningful employment will be the next step on that journey.
On the flipside, any inspiring stories or employers you’ve run into?
Someone I met in prison, who is due to be released shortly, has been offered his job back by his former employer who told him that “everyone deserves a second chance”. It’s really encouraging to hear that there are employers like that out there.
That enlightened employer was a small business, but it seems to be that the bigger the company the more detached they are from their hiring decisions. By using a box to filter out ex-offenders at the application stage, it seems that large companies are washing their hands of their responsibility to society to help marginalised groups access the workplace.
Many of these ex-offenders will buy goods and services from these companies in the future – if they are good enough to be customers, why and they not good enough to be employees?
If they are good enough to be customers, why and they not good enough to be employees?
There have been a couple of occasions where I have applied for a job which does not have a formal application process – so no box to tick. On these occasions, I have disclosed my offence and found people to be open and willing to engage.
None of these conversations have yet resulted in a job offer, but even the experience of preparing for, and attending a meeting is a positive reinforcement that I could still have a contribution to make – somewhere.
Do you keep in touch with other ex-offenders and what are their stories like about trying to find work?
I met another guy in prison that worked for a FTSE 100 company and his job had also been kept open. When you hear stories like that you think it’s not that bad out there, but the reality has been very different for me. It seems there are a few exceptional employers that are willing to give people a second chance, but majority can’t see past a one-time mistake.
What skills, attitudes, values do you think ex-offenders bring to the workplace that others don’t?
I can honestly say that the employer that gives me a chance will get complete loyalty and commitment, more than ever before. Obviously, everyone is different but I think a lot of ex-offenders are determined to put their past behind them and are willing to work hard to do that.
When you’re in prison, you have a lot of time to reflect on your actions and figure out what to do differently. You also learn to be resilient as you have a lot to put up with in prison.