The recently screened Channel 4 programme “Bad Santas” has highlighted the issue of employing ex-offenders with a tongue in cheek seasonal focus.  The four ex-offenders  were trained in Santa School to  become Santas so that they could become employed and begin to earn a wage.   They had all been CRB checked and deemed fit to work with children, having records for bank robbing, burglary and grievous bodily harm.

Some employers see giving a job to an ex-offender carries some risk because they consider they lack essential skills of honesty, reliability and personal behaviour.  They are worried about safety for their staff and customers and damage to their reputation.  However, this stereo-typing and prejudice marginalises a significant portion of the working population who have a great deal to offer to the workplace.  However, according to the CIPD these fears are often unfounded.  By giving an ex-offender a job, an employer, may be giving someone their life back.  They can have pride for a job well done and earn enough to live their life  independently.  Furthermore they are less likely to re-offend.  For employers there is a talent pool to tap into, skills shortages can be reduced and effective performance achieved.   

CIPD research shows that many employers do not ask for details of unspent convictions.    The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 enables criminal convictions to be ignored after a rehabilitation period.  It ensures that people do not have a lifelong blemish on their working life for a minor offence in the past.  The rehabilitation period is determined by the sentence and starts with the date of the conviction.  After the period if there has been no further conviction, the conviction  is spent albeit with certain exceptions.  It need not be disclosed by the ex-offender when applying for a job.  Furthermore employees have protection against dismissal or exclusion from employment.  Employers can not show prejudice against a person because of a spent conviction.   However, if an employee fails to disclose an unspent conviction that an employer finds out about subsequently they may dismiss albeit following a fair procedure. 

For adults, the rehabilitation period is five years for most non-custodial sentences, seven years for prison sentences of up to 6 months, and ten years for prison sentences of between six months and 2½ years. For a young offender (under 18) the rehabilitation period is generally half that for adults. Currently other sentences have variable rehabilitation periods. There are some exceptions to the Act, broadly relating to work with children, the sick, disabled people and the administration of justice.

A prison sentence of more than 2½ years can never be spent, however, the government is currently looking at this time frame for unspent convictions.  The Government’s proposals are that instead of the time period for determining when a conviction is spent commencing from the conviction date, it will start from when the offender completes his sentence. Furthermore, rehabilitation periods will be shorter. Thus the conviction of an offender who is imprisoned for between 6- 30 months will be spent four years after the sentence itself is completed. It is also proposed that the only conviction never to be spent will be one resulting in a custodial sentence of four years or more. Where an offender receives a custodial sentence of between 30 months and four years, that conviction will be spent seven years from the end of the sentence.

According to CIPD research most employers recruit offenders who have been released from prison for two years and who no longer have a supervision order with the Probation Service.  Most employers would only take on an ex-offender whose conviction is fully spent. 

There is therefore work to be done to encourage employers to take on ex-offenders earlier to ensure the risk of re-offending is reduced as research shows that an offender without a job to go to on leaving prison is twice as likely to re-offend.   60,000 offenders leave prison every year with two thirds re-offending within two years.  In 2005 the Ministry of Justice set up the Corporate Alliance in order to engage employers with the issue of employing ex-offenders.  100 employers participate with a view to providing training and employment of ex-offenders. However, the government needs to do more to ensure employers have more guidance on this very important issue.