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The Redemption Game

The question of what happens to people once they are released from prison is an age old one, but has rarely been more prevalent or newsworthy. Footballer (or should that be former footballer?) Ched Evans has been unable to return to work despite serving his time in jail. For a crime he maintains he did not commit. But what about the FM world, what can the industry gain from employing ex-offenders?

In 2012, Matt Yates, then 17-years-old, was sentenced to five months in a young offender’s institution. He has come a long way since then. These days, thanks to a progressive employer giving him a chance, he has turned his life around and is doing his near ideal job (well, aside from being a world-class footballer).

Yates has been employed by the winter maintenance specialist GRITIT, as a yard operative assistant at GRITIT’s Midlands depot for almost two years now, and is currently knee-deep in his first winter season. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun to shovel grit into trailers and to service machines in the freezing cold on pitch-black mornings, but Yates says that the work really suits him. “I’d rather get out of bed in the morning and know that I’m spending my day in the outdoors rather than behind a desk. I really enjoy the practical, physical side of it.”

Yates doesn’t like to talk about his time in the young offender’s institution or talk about why he was there in the first place, except to say that he was sentenced to five months and got out after four for good behaviour. “I made mistakes, immature mistakes, that I’ve learned from and moved on.”

But he does think that the experience has put a fire in his belly to prove himself to people. “I am more determined to prove to people that I am worth something, worth putting some trust in. I feel like I have something to prove, which makes me more determined to do so.” He thinks that society often stigmatises ex-offenders and, sadly, some are not able to learn from their mistakes or are not given a chance to do so. “In the wider society, I really feel like there is a prejudgment on people who have done time. You have committed a crime and so you’re worthless, in a sense. It takes time to earn that trust back and I felt like I needed to do that. Some people who do time end up doing time again because they can’t reflect on it and learn from it. I realised I had to personally make that change and take responsibility for my future.”

After being released, and with luck on his side, Yates found himself sitting opposite GRITIT’s managing director Nikki Singh-Barmi and regional director Midlands Mick Crutchley, being interviewed for a job. Singh-Barmi had approached the Leicestershire County Council’s Youth Offending Team (YOT), which helps to get young offenders in the area into full-time education, employment or training, and invited them to present candidates for a job with GRITIT. Yates was put forward, aced the interview, was invited to GRITIT for a two-week trial, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So why is GRITIT keen to give Yates, and others like him, a chance? “All our senior managers have come from the tools,” explains GRITIT’s MD Singh-Barmi. “And a good number of our best people might not have had an opportunity to get to where they are now in other businesses. We wanted to give that opportunity back to others.” This is just one way in which GRITIT makes a positive impact on the lives of people in communities across the UK. The company also gives 20p of every £100 of its turnover to charity, and the company’s Prince’s Trust apprenticeship programme supports young people and the long-term unemployed.

A number of companies in the wider facilities management sector also employ ex-offenders or run programmes to enable ex-offenders to gain valuable experience and paid work. Just this October, three major FM firms – Carillion, ISS and Interserve Support Services – were among 25 big name employers to remove the criminal conviction tick box from their application forms. They were encouraged to do so by the charity Business in the Community’s Ban the Box campaign, launched a year ago in response to widespread discrimination against job-seeking ex-offenders.

Then, in November, outsourcing company Mitie, and Mosaic, the Prince of Wales’ mentoring charity, announced that they had created a new programme to support ex-offenders. The programme comprises a series of workshops and training courses to provide ex-offenders with transferable skills, experience and mentorship, and could lead to a work placement with Mitie. Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, chief executive of Mitie, said at the time: “The Mitie Foundation is dedicated to creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds to join the world of work, by raising aspirations and unlocking people’s true potential.” Nor is Mitie new to working with ex-offenders. In 2011, the company ran a 12-week pilot scheme in conjunction with A4e in Hollesley Bay Open Prison, Suffolk involving 12 offenders.

Companies that work to reintegrate ex-offenders into the workplace are making a vital social contribution that cannot be underestimated. The UK has some of the highest rates of re-offending in Western Europe, with more than one in four criminals re-offending within a year, according to the most recent Ministry of Justice figures. And re-offending is on the rise. One of the greatest single reasons is a lack of stable paid work, says the UK’s National Action Plan to Reduce Re-Offending; 75 per cent of offenders leave prison with no form of paid work to enter.

Getting offenders into work has also been on the government’s agenda this year. In March, reforms came into effect to cut the amount of time some offenders need to disclose details of any low level convictions. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said of the changes: “They will mean that people who have turned their backs on crime will be able to move on with their lives. Evidence shows that former offenders who are able to get back into the world of work and contribute to society are less likely to re-offend.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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