Thursday, July 11, 2024

The challenges of employing people with convictions for a sexual offence: a new way forward or rebranded rhetoric.

By Porter, C., Ph.D., & McCartan, K. F., Ph.D.

Last week the UK elected a new government, a labour government. In the first couple of days they where in power the new prime minister, Sir Kier Starmer, talked about many things including health, education, social welfare, and justice. He said that they all needed an overhaul. As a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, he understands all too well the pressures that the prison and probation service is under and stated that it needs to change, that their needs be a new approach to incarceration and community integration. In line with this, the new prime minster has appointed James Timpson, CEO of Timpson’s, as the new prisons minister. This is a clear declaration of intent to reconceptualise prisons and probation, as Timpson’s employs more people with a criminal conviction than any other organisation. James Timpson, like Kier Starmer, understands that meaningful employment matters in helping people desist from offending, building recovery capital, and pro-socially integrating into society. But what does this mean for people convicted of a sexual offence, a group normally shunned by employers and communities.


Across the UK we have reached a crisis point for prison capacity, with more people than ever being incarcerated with 87,453 people in prison across England and Wales as of the 5th of July and the cost per prisoner in the public estate being £33, 628 and in the private estate £51,108. This means that prison is not cheap and is not working (as a crime deterrence, anyway). In 2024 the English and Welsh prison service (approximately 700 individuals short of capcity) almost reached full capacity, and in Scotland it did, forcing the former conservative government to take drastic action. For more context, as of May 2024, there were only 557 spaces left across the entire England and Wales prison estate, with the number being even lower in male prisons. This overcrowding has triggered emergency measures such as, temporarily housing prisoners in police cells, early release, suspend prison sentences of less than 12 months, increased community sentences, Electronic Monitoring (such as GPS tags), removing and deporting foreign offenders, and ultimately building more prisons. These prisoner release schemes generally exclude individuals convicted of violent, sexual, or terrorism-related crimes.


Employment for people convicted of a sexual offence is complex and multidimensional, partly because individuals with a prior sexual conviction(s) are perceived negatively by professionals, employers, and members of the public. A series of online experiments have demonstrated that participant employers are typically unwilling to hire those with a prior offence, even when they are asked to make their hiring decisions before a disclosure and barring service ‘DBS’ check. Specifically, Porter and colleagues (2023) found that when they disclosed a prior sexual offence, employers were unwilling to keep the candidate they selected. Typically, they felt that the candidate was untrustworthy, a risk of harm, and a reputational risk to their organisation.

More thought needs to be given to people convicted of a sexual offence, as this population is growing within our prison and probation service with Justice lab data from July 2023 indicating that sexual offenses (13,788 individuals) are the second most common after violence against the person (21,919 individuals). In in the last annual report, 2022-23, there were 68,357 people with a sexual offence under the care of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) which shows a steady year on year increase which emphasises the importance of employment for this group and the centrality of it for His Majesties Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS). But there has been limited consideration regarding how to find employment for these newly released prisoners, some of which have not had sufficient support or planning with their probation team or other local charities due to the early release scheme.

Recently, we have conducted a series of workshops with practitioners who support individuals with a prior sexual offence to find and maintain employment, including, members of police, probation, the 3rd sector and NGOs, as well as policymakers and therapists. We have found an inconsistent approach in how different organisations are advising this group to disclose (or hide) their offence. This means that we need to develop a more consistent and forward-thinking approach, which means we should consider:

 There needs to be more work done by HMPPS on the breaking down the barriers to employing people convicted of a sexual offence by employer’s and the public.

- A review of the skills base and training needs for people convicted of a sexual offence to help them retrain or repurpose their skills to enable employment post release.

- Think creatively about how probation and MAPPA panels can support people convicted of a sexual offence upon their return to the community to gain meaningful employment.

 Work with the 3rd sector and charities that support community integration, to see how they can better support their clients as well as strengthening partnership working.

- There should be a consideration of the role and function of disclosure in applying for jobs and broader employability, considering the role of schemes like “ban the box” and the use of CV-based self-disclosure as they might improve employability and generally trustworthiness.

-       To effectively support this group, more work needs to be done to empirically examine employer decision making and disclosure interviews.

-       Think about what we can learn for other areas of criminal justice, social justice and public health, to see what e can learn from other populations. We need to recognise what is similar about challenges to employment for this population compared to others, and what is different.


Individuals who are released from prison need access to accommodation, employment, and support services. To successfully obtain access to accommodation, people need regular and secure employment. This is particularly difficult for those with a prior offence and has been made even more challenging for those who have committed a sexual offence. With the new UK government in post less than one week, we are still waiting to see how they tackle this pressing issue but given their history with Criminal Justice System and promising cabinet appointments the future looks promising.


No comments:

Post a Comment