Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prison Reform Trust and Unlock: ‘Thinking Differently: Employer’s views on hiring people convicted of sexual offences’

14th September 2020

UK charities Unlock and The Prison Reform Trust have published ‘Thinking Differently: Employer’s views on hiring people convicted of sexual offences’, a report based on two surveys regarding the employment of those previously convicted of sexual offences.

The surveys were completed by 43 employers from several industries and sought to understand employers’ attitudes towards hiring previous sex offenders and employers understanding of what hiring a previously convicted offender involves and any potential impacts it on their business.

As a background, sexual offences cover a wide range of very different behaviours. The term sexual offence can range from the most serious statutory offences to cases of a minor sending images to their partner. On 31st March 2019, 160,294 were on the register of sexual offenders in the UK. People charged with sexual offences are vulnerable to a serious, blanketed stigma which can impact their employability in a long-term manner. Reoffending is statistically lower amongst those charged with sexual offences compared to other offences.

The report highlights how research has shown that a stable job can reduce the chance of reoffending through providing structure, belonging, personal fulfilment, and perception of something to lose. The report provides feedback from relevant professionals, such as probation officers, and employers showing that people convicted of sexual offences who are given the opportunity to re-enter employment are often highly reliable, grateful and stable employees. Only 11% of employers surveyed were concerned about the reliability when considering applicants with previous sexual convictions. Balancing the views of employers with risk and safety management is crucial to the strategy of employing those with sexual convictions.
 

Key survey findings

  • Almost all employers would consider hiring people with convictions, with the nature of offence being an important deciding factor.
  • DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services) were often used by employers without a written policy on recruiting people with convictions. 56% of employers did not know it’s illegal to carry out DBS checks at a higher level than required.
  • Employers main concerns about hiring people with sexual convictions were: other employees’ reactions (65%); customer safety (62%); and workplace safety (54%)
  • More than half of employers would feel more confident hiring people with sexual convictions if they could access management advice, or information suggesting that the applicant wouldn’t reoffend.
  • Almost half of employers would be reassured by strict probation supervision.

Interestingly, a longer version of the survey which provided additional information regarding sexual offences and employing previous offenders was provided to some employers, who as a result were 3 times less likely to cite concerns regarding reoffending.
 

Recommendations

Government should:

  • Reform the current legislation underpinning spent convictions, so that rehabilitation periods so they are fair and proportionate, and nearly all convictions can become spent.
  • Provide legal remedies where employers discriminate against people based on grounds of previous convictions which are spent.
  • Provide comprehensive, clear and consistent information to employers about recruiting people with convictions and improved use disclosure orders and previous conviction searches.
  • Ensure that schemes to promote the employment of people with convictions in the public sector are evidenceled and do not place blanket exclusions on applications from people with sexual convictions

Support for employability of those with previous sexual convictions must also be active within prisons: prolonged in-cell time and lack of training/educational supports within prisons can make it even more difficult for employers to consider these applicants upon release.

There was also a series of recommendations made to the New Futures Network and others in the report.

Unlock and The Prison Reform Trust highlight that this was a small-scale report which included employers who, by engaging with their social media where the survey was posted, were potentially more open to hiring people with convictions from the outset.

You can read report ‘Thinking Differently: Employer’s views on hiring people convicted of sexual offences’ in full here.

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