Glastonbury charity urges employers to hire ex-offenders amid labour shortages

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A Glastonbury-based criminal reform charity says prison leavers could be a potential untapped resource to help solve the UK's labour shortage. 

Currently, only one in seven prison leavers find a job within six months of their release. But studies show the chances of those who find employment reoffending is cut by a third. 

There are a record number of vacancies across the South West and many in the probation sector hope businesses will become more open to giving those with a criminal past a second chance. 

Many people with unspent criminal records face many barriers to employment, with only one in seven prisoners who have served custodial sentences landing a stable job within six months of their release. 

A few weeks ago the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab gave his backing to a scheme which trains ex-offenders to be lorry drivers.

Eva Hamilton founded charity Key-4-Life a decade ago, in response to the London riots.

She spends time running workshops helping primarily young male offenders to change their behaviours and find work.

Eva Hamilton founded Glastonbury-based charity Key-4-Life. Credit: ITV News

She says just 16% of those she works with go on to reoffend, compared to a national average of 64% of prison leavers. 

Eva said: "Half of employers admit to looking on a candidate unfavourably or discounting them completely if they see a criminal record on their application.

"But I think there is a huge demand now to get more businesses in Britain to actually look at their employment practices and ensure they are looking at this particular group of people.

"A lot of them do need support, but lets get companies who are willing to do that."

Liam Meredith, from Burrington in North Somerset, was first imprisoned in his late teens and says he was offered no support on his release and was later recalled to prison.

Liam said: "When I was released, I was in the same household that I was nicked from, in the same community, I ended up fighting on the street.

"I was taking drugs and two months later, I found myself recalled to prison. During that time I served another two and a half years."

Liam (middle), now works for Yeo Valley. Credit: ITV News

When he was coming up to his second release, he was given the opportunity to take part in a Key-4-Life scheme and landed a full-time job with the dairy firm Yeo Valley, helping to re-wild the company's land. 

He said: "My whole lifestyle has changed and it's just positive. I mean, the ripple effects are huge, my outlook is different and I think other people should get the same opportunity to have a second chance.

"If I hadn't been given that opportunity I would have still been stealing, fighting, selling drugs but now my whole thought pattern has changed and it's just positive now."

Timpson is one company which has actively given prison-leavers a pathway into employment for nearly two decades, ex-offenders now make up one in 10 of its total workforce.

Recruitment Manager, Darren Burns, said: "So it's putting trust in those eager to prove themselves can often pay off.

"Lots of the people want me to recruit directly from Kush. They have lots to offer. They're very hard working and they're very loyal.

"They can even be more honest than people that we recruit from other streams. And they're also able to bring lots of life experience and kind of a personal resilience.

"Anyone who's able to navigate the way through a long prison sentence and get through the other side are able to bring that personal resilience into the world." 

There are 40,000 people due for release from prison in the next 12 months and the Department of Justice is now urging bosses to be more open minded about an applicant's past by offering them a second chance.