Getting ex-offenders back to work

London Action Trust’s NewLIFE Project assists ex-offenders in
achieving secure employment by tackling the prejudice faced by
people with a criminal conviction, writes Joy Macknight.
At the premiere of Straight Talking, a film looking at the
problems faced by job seekers with criminal records, actor David
Soul and NewLIFE ambassador, said: “There are lots of projects that
help ex-offenders but only NewLIFE works with employers to train
them to recruit ex-offenders fairly and safely. NewLIFE is not
about finding work experience placements or asking employers to do
something out of a sense of duty to the community. NewLIFE helps
ex-offenders into real jobs.”

“It’s really about removing the stigma that people with
convictions face. Almost every industry in London says it has
difficulty recruiting and retraining talented people. And it is
worth noting that all the research shows that reformed ex-offenders
make great employees,” Soul said.

Running since September 2003, the project operates in all 33
London boroughs. More than 300 London employers have received
training in the laws that surround employment of an ex-offender,
but also in risk management to enable them to assess whether
someone’s past offences present any future danger to the business
or its customers.

Phil Lett, employment solutions specialist at NewLIFE, said that
employers must understand the demands under the various laws, in
particular the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974). “The big
demand for most jobs is the difference between a spent and unspent
conviction for it is illegal for employers to ask about convictions
that have been spent. It is very important that they are aware of
that because they could find themselves in
front of a tribunal.”

It also makes good business sense, argues Lett. “London’s
employers face a constant battle to improve their performance while
coping with enormous labour shortages. Those that have made the
decision not to exclude people with criminal records have found a
rich seam of skilled and committed workers.” Reading Buses is one
employer that has benefited from this project.

On the other half of the equation, NewLIFE works with
ex-offenders to prepare them for employment by helping them to
examine their skills and talents and so identify their ideal jobs.
The goal is to break the cycle of offending by catching people as
they come out of prison or off probation and transferring them into
employment. NewLIFE’s project manager, Brook Hayes, said: “We give
ex-offenders a chance to partially level the playing field and to
present themselves positively to potential employers.”

NewLIFE offers clients advice and guidance ranging from
preparing CVs and for job interviews to legal advice on disclosing
information about their conviction.

Jamie Steel, 27, a client who had been in and out of court for
years but now has secured a job as a bicycle courier:, said, “The
main thing is the whole personal aspect to the project. People
helping you and giving you confidence about your potential, as well
as the assistance with job searches and computer access.”

But the support doesn’t end when the client gets a job. Kathryn
Stewart, Marketing and Communications Developer, explained that
NewLIFE continues to help with luncheon vouchers or transport
costs, for many clients have to survive for the first month before
their wages come through. “Our clients fight too hard for their
jobs – we don’t want them to fall down at the first

The project is part of the London Action Trust.

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