Employing with conviction: The experiences of employers who actively recruit criminalised people

AuthorPeter Atherton,Gillian Buck
Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Employing with
conviction: The
experiences of
employers who
actively recruit
criminalised people
Peter Atherton
Community Led Initiatives, Manchester, UK
Gillian Buck
University of Chester, UK
In England and Wales, criminal reoffending costs £18 billion annually. Securing
employment can support desistance from crime, but only 17% of ex-prisoners are
employed a year after release. Understanding the motivations of employers who do
recruit criminalised people therefore represents an important area of inquiry. This
article draws upon qualitative interviews with 12 business leaders in England who
proactively employ criminalised people. Findings reveal that inclusive recruitment can
be (indirectly) encouraged by planning policies aimed to improve social and envi-
ronmental well-being and that employers often work creatively to meet employees’
additional needs, resulting in commercial benefits and (re)settlement opportunities.
criminal justice, desistance, resettlement, prisons, probation, employment
Corresponding Author:
Gillian Buck, Faculty of Health and Social Care, University of Chester, Crab Lane, Warrrington WA2 0DB,
Email: g.buck@chester.ac.uk
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2021, Vol. 68(2) 186–205
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505211010942
Job stability can promote desistance from crime by creating new social bonds
(Sampson and Laub, 1993), reducing criminal opportunities, providing informal
social control (Kazemian and Maruna, 2009) and nurturing a pro-social identity,
strengthening individuals’ commitment to remain crime free (Farrall, 2005).
Employment may also facilitate ‘psychological rehabilitation’ through increased
self-confidence, personal autonomy, and the ability to demonstrate steps towards
‘going straight’ (Goodstein and Petrich, 2019). These theories are supported by
evidence that employment correlates with reduced re-offending (Harrison and
Schehr, 2004; Solomon et al., 2006; Visher et al., 2008; Wadsworth, 2006) and
unemployment with higher risks of re-offending (Blomberg et al., 2012; Nuttall
et al., 2003; Vacca, 2004). Research further indicates that the quality and stability
of the job matters (Ramakers et al., 2016; Sampson and Laub, 1993; Uggen and
Wakefield, 2008) in order to provide the opportunity to ‘knife off’ from criminal
pasts (Giordano et al., 2002) and compensate for financial positions supported by
offending. However, it is ‘cruelly ironic’ that one of the most important resources for
turning lives around – employment – can also be the most elusive (Flake, 2015: 45).
Criminalised people must often overcome personal and systemic barriers to
employment, including histories of school exclusion and limited literacy (Ludlow
et al., 2019); sporadic employment records or lack of trade skills (Holzer et al.,
2003, 2004); and considerable hardships including poverty, precarious housing
and homelessness, and serious medical and mental health problems (Goodman,
2020; Kethineni and Falcone, 2007). Employer discrimination is also a key con-
tributor to the marginalisation of criminalised people (Haith, 2001) as people with
convictions can be perceived by employers to be lazy, unreliable, and untrust-
worthy (Graffam et al., 2008). In the US, where prison rates are the highest in the
world, steady, full-time work is rare post release, and those who do secure jobs,
often work in precarious employment (Western et al., 2015). Even in more ‘pro-
gressive’ jurisdictions such as Canada (Goodman, 2020) or the Netherlands
(Ramakers et al., 2014) there are practical barriers and worsened employment
prospects. In England and Wales, ‘only 17%of ex-offenders manage to get a job
within a year of release’ (MOJ, 2018) and half of UK employers surveyed
(n¼1849) would not consider employing an ‘ex-offender’ (YouGov, 2016). While
an employer’s decision to hire a criminalised person can be a key catalyst to
facilitate desistance from crime (Reich, 2017), employers are often dissuaded by
perceived risks (Haslewood-Pocsik et al., 2008), including those to staff (95%) and
customer safety (89%) and bad publicity (69%). Holzer et al. (2004) found 90%of
employers would not hire someone with a violent conviction, while retail employers
feared past theft as a business risk (Albright and Denq, 1996). In this context it is
unsurprising that criminalised people have limited expectations and aspirations
when it comes to jobs (Goodman, 2020).
While much is known about why employers do not recruit people with convic-
tions, less is known about why some do. Understanding the motivations of this group
can inform policies designed to increase the recruitment of criminalised people, and
Atherton and Buck 187

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