Reform Scotland

Sue Ryder’s approach to giving a second chance – Stuart Mitchell

It may be surprising to learn that of every three men in Scotland, one has been found guilty of committing a crime.  For women it’s closer to one in ten.

But behind every statistic lies a personal story and for those that are serving time, many deserve a second chance and the support to help them find paid work when they’re released from prison.

I work for national healthcare charity Sue Ryder; we support people through the most difficult times of their lives, whether that’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or a neurological condition.

I have been working at Sue Ryder for over ten years on a scheme that supports offender’s and helps them back into employment.  If someone leaves prison without employment they are 13 times more likely to reoffend. Many find that as soon as they declare they have a criminal conviction their job application stops dead in its tracks.

We need employers to offer second chances by being encouraged to train people whilst they’re in prison and offer them a job when they’re released. The individual is picking up skills which will help with their transition into paid work and the employer is doing their part to tackle reoffending. What the employer is getting is an individual who is loyal and someone who is keen to repay the trust and second chance they have been offered.

So while offering a second chance is good for the individual concerned, it could also be positive for the wider economy.  It’s becoming apparent that there is a gap appearing in lower skilled work, which will impact on certain areas particularly the restaurant and hospitality trade. With unemployment in Scotland at a low – the question arises as to how we’ll fill our low skilled jobs in the future?

Many companies are already alive to this challenge and have current serving prisoners in their outlets gaining valuable work experience. Now it’s the time for more companies to be investing in recruitment programmes and tapping into the huge talent pool of ex-offenders.

At Sue Ryder, whilst we’re best known for our palliative, bereavement and neurological support for people when they need us, we also recognise the value of supporting people in other ways, such as our award-winning Prison Volunteer Programme (PVP).

Since 2006 the Sue Ryder PVP has been supporting the rehabilitation of serving offenders by offering volunteering placements in our 450 shops and central offices.

The time, effort and skills of our volunteers help make it possible for us to provide and develop our services. By offering volunteering places in our shops not only helps offenders gain confidence and experience it helps us to generate further income.

We work with offenders from over 30 open and closed UK prisons, all of whom are reaching the end of their custodial sentence and are being released on temporary licence and have been identified as suitable for the programme.

The aim is to support those individuals in the process of rehabilitation and resettlement as they carry on their journey to get their lives back on track.

With 94% of all our prison volunteers saying they have been offered formal job-specific training opportunities and the programme having been praised by the prisons we work with, we hope that the success of our scheme and other initiatives mean we can take a fresh look at the role that those with criminal convictions can play in society. And if they have been a great volunteer they are sure to be an even better member of staff. And the 78 individuals we have recruited directly from prison are testament to that.

Stuart Mitchell is the National Prison and Community Justice Manager for Sue Ryder