More than 90 business experts have been enlisted as prison employment advisors to help drive thousands of prison leavers into work and away from a life of crime.

  • business leaders from top firms now offering expertise at all 92 ‘resettlement’ prisons
  • household names including Iceland, Greggs and Oliver Bonas backing initiative
  • number of offenders in work 6 months after release has increased by two-thirds

Bosses from top firms including the Co-op, Greggs, Iceland, and Oliver Bonas have now been appointed as Employment Advisory Board chairs in all 92 resettlement prisons, which help prepare prisoners nearing the end of their sentence for release into the community.

The Boards link prisons to leading business figures who can offer their expertise on the skills, qualifications and training needed to help prisoners re-enter the workforce.

Using these insights, prisons can tailor their training and workshops to match local labour market demands so ex-offenders are job-ready when they walk out the prison gate.

The initiative was launched in March 2022 and will play a crucial role in boosting the UK economy while tackling the £18 billion annual cost of reoffending, with ex-prisoners in steady employment being nine percentage points less likely to reoffend.

Getting more prison leavers into work helps to protect the public and the number in employment 6 months after release increased by almost two thirds between April 2021 and March 2022, from 14 per cent to 23 per cent.

Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab MP, said:

Our innovative scheme is helping to get ex-offenders into work, keeping them on the straight and narrow while providing businesses with the staff they need to grow.

We are already seeing the rewards with more prison leavers in work six months after release – helping them turn their backs on crime, contribute to society and saving the taxpayer money.

Alongside breaking the cycle of crime, getting prison leavers work-ready helps employers build the workforce they and the economy needs.

Research from the Ministry of Justice shows that 90% of businesses that employ ex-offenders agreed that they are good attenders, motivated and trustworthy*. Harnessing the talent from those leaving the prison is already supporting employers to fill vacancies bringing benefits to businesses and the UK economy.

Richard Walker, Executive Chairman, Iceland Foods, said:

The rehabilitation of offenders back into the workforce can offer huge benefits to UK businesses and give those individuals seeking employment a much-needed lifeline. At Iceland we feel it’s the right thing to do, and although we’re at the beginning of this rehabilitation journey we are already seeing how it can offer real societal and business impact.

Employment Advisory Boards allow business leaders, including Iceland’s own Director of Rehabilitation Paul Cowley, an inside track to support ex-offenders, equipping them with much needed skills that employers like us will value both now and in the future.

Olly Tress, Founder and CEO of Oliver Bonas and EAB Chair at HMP Belmarsh said:

Employment Advisory Boards are helping prisoners to be job-ready for opportunities in the outside world, whether it be in IT support, catering or hospitality.

It’s a true win-win situation by plugging gaps in the skills shortages across various sectors, while providing a more stable future for the individual so they can stay crime-free.

Beckie Rowlands, Greggs Fresh Start Manager and EAB Chair at HMP Foston Hall said:

At Greggs, we pride ourselves on our culture, creating an environment which is inclusive of everyone. Being an inclusive business also means making it easier for people who might face challenges with getting a job. Through our Fresh Start programme, we proactively offer training and work experience to people who are transitioning into work, including care leavers, people who have been unemployed for a long time, or who are leaving the armed services or prison. We provide employability workshops, mentoring, mock interviews, interviews, placements and, most importantly, sustainable job opportunities to candidates that we would not ordinarily meet.

Working with the Employment Advisory Boards is a great way for us to not only reduce the impact of re-offending within our communities, but also an avenue to find great employees to join Greggs.

Dedicated job experts have been recruited in every resettlement prison in England and Wales and will walk prisoners through job applications and give them interview training so they are ready to find jobs in booming sectors such as construction, haulage, and logistics.

One-stop hubs where prisoners can access career advice and support with tasks such as CV writing have also been established in 91 of 92 resettlement prisons.

Dan Whyte, former prisoner, founder and Co-Director of DWRM Consultants, said:

When I received my life sentence, I had no qualifications at all, but I was determined to use my time inside productively by studying and focusing on the career I wanted when I walked through the prison gates.

Having a job gave me the direction I needed to stay on the straight-and-narrow after my release and now run a successful business helping prisoners get access to university training and education.

The launch of Employment Advisory Boards and Prison Employment Leads forms a central part of the Prisons White Paper, published in December 2021. This includes a major focus on upskilling offenders so they can turn their back on crime for good.

Notes to editors

  • *Figures are from Kantar Public commissioned by the Ministry of Justice. Total sample size 114 businesses that employ ex-offenders. Fieldwork undertaken between 18-24 March 2022. Online self-completion survey.
  • Resettlement prisons help prepare prisoners to be released back into society through rehabilitation such as training and education.
  • The number in work six months after release increased nine percentage points to 23% between April 2021 and March 2022. This is an increase of almost two thirds.

Further quotes from businesses:

George Vestey, CEO of Vestey Holdings and EAB Chair at HMP Hollesley Bay said:

Getting out of prison may sound like a reason to celebrate but for many freedom can appear a daunting prospect. From my time spent supporting people to get back on their feet, I have learned that sustainable employment is the hardest challenge. At Vestey Holdings we are determined to do what we can to help and through the EAB at HMP Hollesley Bay we see great opportunities to link employers with the wide array of talent within the prison.

Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director at Co-op and EAB Chair at HMP Risley said:

It’s hugely important that those who have made mistakes and been to prison are given a second chance. Having a job and a steady income is often what it takes for people to stay on a law-abiding path.

Jon Murphy, CEO of Murphy Group and EAB Chair at HMP Berwyn said:

There are so many benefits to hiring prison leavers. Most of all it provides employers with a talent pool to tap into so we can continue to grow our workforce. Employment Advisory Boards are reinforcing the importance of skills and meaningful work of prisoners – helping transform the lives of prison leavers and allowing us to hire dedicated and hardworking staff.

Pavan Dhaliwal, Chief Executive of Revolving Doors said,

We warmly welcome the full roll-out of Employment Advisory Boards to support people leaving prison access work. The benefits of employment after prison are vast, particularly for those trapped in the revolving door of crisis and crime, where low-level repeat contact with the criminal justice system is driven by factors such as poor mental health and poverty. We hope that this initiative helps people access the myriad benefits of work, not least a reduction in poverty and the risk of reoffending.

We are also optimistic that the inclusion of leading business experts in this initiative will serve to break down the stigma of having a criminal conviction when trying to access employment.

David, a Revolving Doors lived experience member who has experienced repeat contact with the criminal justice system, said:

Having employment opportunities for people leaving prison not only reduces reoffending, and therefore cuts crime, but for the person leaving prison it provides independence, more money in their pocket and better self-esteem. Most importantly, it provides a sense of purpose.

The employment support and education opportunities I benefitted from before leaving prison made a big difference for me – this is what got me to where I am now. Employment support is one important part of the solution.

Nadia, a former member of Revolving Doors who is now in full-time employment, said:

It’s very empowering for those who are in prison to get support to access employment opportunities. It sends the message that just because you’ve got a criminal conviction, doesn’t mean you’ll never be employed. There are still difficulties and adjustments to make when you are in work, but this is a positive step in the right direction. I hope that with the right support in place, this initiative will help others grow professionally like I have.

Meet the Businesses Employing Ex-Prisoners