The UK charity, Business in the Community (BITC), is using the third anniversary of its Ban the Box campaign to call on employers to rethink the way they treat young job applicants with criminal convictions.
Over the last year, the Ban the Box campaign has gone from strength to strength. In February, the campaign scored a major victory when former Prime Minister David Cameron committed the entire civil service to removing the criminal record disclosure tick box from job application forms, doubling the number of jobs covered by Ban the Box to 800,000. Other companies to show their support include Virgin Trains and London ‘super sewer’ developer Tideway, taking the total number of Ban the Box employers to 75.
But the business-led charity says more must be done to support the thousands of young people looking to enter the labour market with a criminal conviction.
In March 2016 there were 16,555 children and young people aged 15-24 in custody in England and Wales. Re-offending rates for the youngest people in the UK criminal justice system are chronically high with 68% of under 18s going on to re-offend within one year of release from custody, compared to 46% for the adult population. The social and economic costs of young men and women offending have been estimated at anything up to £19 billion a year.
According to BITC, employers have a vital role to play in supporting young offenders to turn their lives around. Nicola Inge, Campaign Manager says “As a group, young people already face a serious barrier to work because of a lack of work experience. When you combine that with recruitment practices that use the tick box to filter out candidates with convictions, finding a job can feel like an insurmountable challenge for a young job-seeker.”
In a snapshot survey carried out by BITC and Milton Keynes College at Glen Parva Young Offenders Institution, ‘having a criminal conviction’ was the most commonly cited barrier to work, highlighted by 63% of young offenders who took part. The survey also revealed that many of the prisoners felt they had learnt new skills in prison which might improve their chances of getting a job.
Nicola Inge continues “Young people in custody are being given the opportunity to gain qualifications and work experience through programmes like those run by Milton Keynes College at YOI Glen Parva. It’s very disappointing to think that this training might be going to waste because of recruitment practices that block candidates with a criminal record.
Employment is proven to reduce re-offending by up to 50%. By removing the tick box from job application forms and giving young offenders a chance to find work, employers can play a vital role in keeping young people out of prison, and gain access to a large and diverse talent pool.”
Tammy Moreton, a 23-year old from Birmingham spent her late teens in and out of prison, before she accepted support from a mentor and was offered a job at Ban the Box employer, Virgin Trains. Speaking about her experience she said: “After I was released from prison for the fourth time, I finally realised I needed to change things or that’s how I would spend the rest of my life. I got a mentor, found help to stay out and was determined to stay on the straight and narrow.
But it's really hard for ex-offenders because once an employer knows about your criminal record, they aren’t interested in you anymore. Even though I was determined not to return to prison it felt like society wasn’t giving me many other options. That ‘criminal record’ box was getting in the way of every application.”
Kathryn Wildman, Lead Recruiter at Virgin Trains says: “Tammy is a prime example of the type of talented young person a business might overlook by taking a tick-box approach to recruitment. As employers, we must become stronger advocates for rehabilitation. It makes perfect sense as it increases the talent pool, lowers the price tag of re-offending and contributes to safer communities.”