The quarterly CJA Members Meeting is an opportunity for members to connect with each other, sharing experiences and knowledge on a prominent issue or topic. We also invite experts from the criminal justice sector to offer insights into their work and opportunities for members to collaborate. The meetings are chaired by a Trustee of the CJA.
Our recent quarterly CJA Members Meeting, chaired by CJA Trustee Lucie Russell (CEO of Street Doctors), focused on employment and self-employment for prison leavers. The CJA is a partner of the Positive Pathways from Prison project, which calls for more support for people to gain employment and build family ties following release. We have been working to promote the recommendations of our briefing Purpose and Connection in which we welcomed proposed Employment Advisory Boards (EABs), but warned that there needs to be ‘a careful balance between the need to fill local skills gaps and finding people good quality work opportunities that they are interested in, find purposeful, offer stability and which have prospects for progression.’ We also called for greater focus on self-employment.
There is very little public information about EABs currently, so speakers at the members meeting helped to shed some light on what they are, how they work, what they should consider and how can members get involved. Speakers included representatives from HMP Berwyn, HMP Brixton, New Futures Network, the Timpson Foundation, and Working Chance. We were also joined by LJ Flanders, Founder of Cell Workout, with one lucky CJA member winning a t shirt from the Next Cell Workout collection!
Employment Advisory Boards (EABs)
The government recently announced that it would be expanding Employment Advisory Boards (EABs) across the country. The aim is to introduce EABs in every resettlement prison.
Three core purposes
Neil Wood from the Timpson Foundation, which has been integral to the establishment of EABs, introduced the three core purposes of EABs:
- to create a culture of sustainable employment within prisons
- to provide people with employability skills through education and other opportunities
- to extend the network of employers that want to work with people who are leaving prison
Duncan O’Leary, CEO of New Futures Network (NFN), explained that their role is to find employers who want to work with people who are in prison and leaving prison. Duncan considers EABs key in ensuring that HMPPS is challenged, as well as advised, by employers and other experts such as charities, to see things from a different perspective.
Learning from HMP Berwyn
Nick Leader, Governor of HMP Berwyn, emphasised the growing enthusiasm of employers to hire people who have been prison. HMP Berwyn is the largest public sector prison in England and Wales, with a population of 1,875 men. At the start of the EAB, 7% of men released from HMP Berwyn were in employment six weeks post-release, however as of July 2022, 25% were employed six weeks post-release. Its EAB has been in place for over a year, making it one of the most established, and is chaired by John Murphy, CEO of Murphy, who has publicly called on other construction industry employers to ensure a criminal record is not a barrier to succeeding in life. Nick explained that HMP Berwyn produced a strategy for its EAB with a focus on four areas:
- getting the culture right in the prison
- preparing people for employment
- engaging men on the employment hub
- providing through-the-gate support
Nick emphasised how the EAB has led to a shift in thinking:
‘Governors have got to learn to be told what to do sometimes … what we’ve found is, to make success, we have to be influenced in a way where we can be told what to do and work differently – that was the whole point of the Boards. … We’ve been told … by quite a few employers, that they know what they want, and we’ve been trying to work out ways of actually enabling them to manage that effectively.’
Nick Leader, Governor of HMP Berwyn
There is one person in each houseblock at HMP Berwyn that is a prisoner representative, who attend the Resettlement Hub weekly to bring queries from other men and share the opportunities available. These representatives support the monthly employment events at HMP Berwyn. There is also a television channel through which Nick and Norah have broadcasted presentations to promote employment opportunities and successes, and Nick highlighted that this has increased understanding and interest. There was also an introduction to the EAB broadcast on the channel to share its purpose and aims.
HMP Berwyn has assigned two points of contact for businesses and experts who would like to get involved with its EAB, which has been helpful in breaking down barriers to communication with the staff leading the EAB. HMP Berwyn was not previously providing ROTL (Release on Temporary License), however introducing this has enabled people in prison to work on day-release and build employer relationships, building a bridge in preparation for employment on release.
Setting up an EAB at HMP Brixton
Hugh Lenon is Chair of HMP Brixton’s EAB, which began at the start of this year, so is less established than the EAB at HMP Berwyn. HMP Brixton is a category C resettlement prison of around 750 men, and 6.9% of men have a job six weeks after release. Half of the people on its EAB work in the prison service, including the Governor, Head of Reducing Reoffending, Employment Lead at HMP Brixton, and the other half of the Board comprises external experts, including Dan Whyte from CJA member DWRM, and a representative from CJA member Forward Trust. The EAB is divided into four subgroups:
- communication (ensuring that opportunities presented by the EAB are understood by everyone)
- needs analysis (assessing the local market and the skills of people in HMP Brixton)
- reviewing the pre-release programme (working with the employment hub to get men ready to work on release)
- employer engagement (building relationships with employers for potential partnerships).
‘It is not for me or the EAB to say ‘Do this, do that’. … We will advise, we will help, we will encourage, we will bring some external perspective, some fresh thinking, perhaps. But let’s not assume that [staff in prisons] are not already doing some good things.’
Hugh Lenon, Chair of the Employment Advisory Board at HMP Brixton
What about women?
Working Chance, which provides employability support to women who are leaving prison, has been working closely with NFN on the development of EABs in women’s prisons. Richard Rowley, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Working Chance, emphasised that women are three times less likely than men to be working six weeks post-release, so EABs need to understand the multiple specific barriers for women, such as childcare responsibilities and mental health issues caused by trauma and abuse. He agreed with Nick that he had witnessed a change in attitude from some employers, but that there are challenges beyond employer perceptions which need to be addressed for women to find suitable employment.
‘One of the things that we found, especially with the women’s directorate, is that need for the connectivity across the whole of England and Wales, because the employment opportunities, given some of the circumstances for women especially, mean that they need to sometimes reimagine their whole life and where they are living.’
Neil Wood at the Timpson Foundation
Lizzy Jewell, Head of Communications and Engagement at Working Chance, explained that women require employment support that is gender-specific, trauma-informed, and holds meaning to them. In 2020 Working Chance surveyed almost 800 women with convictions and found that one in three women are interested in jobs in health and social care, and one in five are interested in working for charities.
In July 2021 Working Chance produced a report, Worst-Case Scenario, analysing the compounded disadvantage caused by racism, sexism and the stigma of having a criminal record. The report found that racially minoritised women experience disadvantage at every part of the criminal justice system, and then in the world of work. Racially minoritised people receive longer sentences than white people, delaying the point at which their conviction is spent. Their conviction follows them for longer and is met by stigmatisation in the workplace itself, creating barriers to professional development.
The discussion highlighted some practical steps EABs could take to prioritise equality and diversity. For example, EABs should reflect the diversity of the prison estate by involving Black, Asian and minority ethnic – led businesses. They should also ensure that analysis of outcomes looks at demographic data to understand which demographics of prison leaver are getting jobs, and which are not, so that support can be better tailored, and the public sector equality duty adhered to.
What about self-employment?
LJ Flanders, Founder of Cell Workout, advocated for the provision of opportunities for self-employment training for people in prison, as many opportunities in the fitness industry are freelance, such as personal training. LJ highlighted the success of The Clink Charity, which provides a pathway for people leaving prison to employment in the catering and horticulture industries. Just as prison kitchens offer training opportunities, LJ said that prison gyms have the capacity to train people to work in the fitness industry and prisons should combine this with the self-employment skills to be freelance. He would like to see EABs include or reach out to fitness industry employers, as it was Virgin who gave LJ his first opportunity to work in a gym after leaving prison.
Andy Gullick is Chief Executive of RIFT Social Enterprise, a non-profit organisation supporting people with convictions through tailored self-employment advice pre-release and post-release. Andy left the prison service where he was a governor in 2017, where he saw minimal provision of self-employment advice. He explained that there was a focus on construction, which influenced much of the education and training opportunities available, but with 50% of people working in construction under the Construction Industry Scheme required to register as a sole trader, he argued it is essential that the system provides a path to self-employment. He highlighted that the Centre for Entrepreneurs conducted a survey which suggested that 79% of people in prison demonstrated a high interest in self-employment on release, so he would like to see EABs have a greater emphasis on enterprise and self-employment.
‘Prison leadership must recognise the value of self-employment and take ownership of it.’
Evaluation of the Prison Entrepreneurship Programme at HMP Ramby, 2017, quoted by Andy Gullick, Chief Executive of RIFT Social Enterprise
Norah Keller, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Berwyn, highlighted that one of the successes of the EAB; a collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce. They deliver four sessions over a six-month period, in which twelve men create self-employment business plans and receive support with finance and marketing. The Startup Club sessions culminate in a pitch by each entrepreneur to a panel of experts.
‘One of the key things that we are really trying hard to do is finding … sustainable employment as opposed to just finding jobs for prisoners that hopefully they’ll be in on the day of release.’
Norah Keller, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Berwyn
Changing the culture and providing meaningful opportunities
LJ emphasised that, in order to bridge the gap from being in prison and release, preparation for leaving prison must begin during the sentence. LJ set out the opportunities available to him during his sentence, such as time out of cell, weekly family visits, education and access to a library, and access to the gym to qualify as a personal training instructor. He contrasted this with the lack of opportunity available to people who have been in prison during lockdown restrictions.
In 2017 LJ was awarded a reducing reoffending grant to work in HMP Wandsworth to host Cell Workout Workshops. While the workshops were received well by men in prison, unfortunately it was not well received by all members of staff. Cell Workout was included in a prison gym staff conference, where 52% of attendees felt that it was a good initiative, while 48% felt that it was not. Although LJ was able to complete his workshops, making a positive impact on wellbeing and on-wing culture, he reflected on the change in culture that is needed for prisons to work effectively and in collaboration with external organisations, especially those led by people with lived experience of prison, to improve employment opportunities.
Next steps and how to get involved
There is definitely a role for charities and social enterprises on Boards. … Charities can bring a real understanding of the people that we are all working for.
Duncan O’Leary, CEO of New Futures Network (NFN)
Neil Wood at the Timpson Foundation shared that the NFN is in the process of producing a National Employer’s Charter for employing people with convictions, and CJA members can contribute to this Charter by contacting Neil.
The EAB Southern Conference is taking place in Essex on 15 September, to which CJA members are welcome. Nick Leader, Duncan O’Leary, James Timpson and Neil Wood will be present to discuss the EABs, and women with lived experience of the criminal justice system will share their experiences of employment too.
There are quarterly meetings of the National Board and CJA members are welcome to get in touch with Neil to send points and questions for the next meeting on 22 September.
Neil welcomes suggestions from CJA members as to employers and other key stakeholders who may be interested in getting involved with EABs across the country.
If you would like to get in touch with Neil, please contact email@example.com and she will forward your email.
We are grateful to the speakers and members who joined the CJA Members Meeting. This is an ongoing piece of work for the CJA, and we are taking forward the Meeting discussion in our advocacy work. If you would like to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina Champion, Director of the CJA, updated attendees on the progress of the CJA on our Annual Work Plan. Read the Director’s Update here.