The first hurdle to landing a job is getting an interview. But
for someone with a criminal record, that hurdle can be the highest.
Ex-offenders are discriminated against from the outset, mostly
because of employers’ ignorance of their position legally,
ethically and practically. The NewLife Project, run by London
Action Trust, a charity dedicated to breaking the cycle of
offending, works with both sides: offenders and, critically,
NewLife, funded by the European Social Fund and London
Development Agency, was established to help ex-offenders find work
by overcoming the prejudice of employers against hiring people with
a criminal record. Operating in London, the project aims to educate
employers on the laws affecting employment of ex-offenders, and to
assist clients in finding work.
“If an employer is going through someone’s CV and sees a
record, they immediately cut them off,” says David Soul, West End
and ex-Starsky & Hutch star and NewLife ambassador. “Instead of
stigmatising people, we have to encourage some sort of trust
between an employer and an employee and give ex-offenders a chance.
It’s about changing attitudes.”
Despite labour shortages in London, because 20 per cent of the
working-age population has a criminal record, recruitment becomes
harder if ex-offenders are excluded. NewLife argues that research
shows reformed ex-offenders make great employees: they stay longer
and work harder because they have something to prove to society,
their families and themselves.
Since September 2003, the project has trained more than 580
London employers and human resources professionals (from all
sectors, but mainly the retail, local government, leisure, charity
and financial services industries) in the laws surrounding
employment of an ex-offender.
They have also been trained in risk management to enable them to
assess whether someone’s past offences present any future
danger to the business or its customers. As well as seminars on the
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, NewLife also provides
consultancy and telephone support, assistance with internal policy
and procedures, and recruitment consultancy.
“Some employers tackle their prejudice through the law –
they find out what they can do legally and then not engage in it at
all,” says NewLife’s employment solutions specialist, Phil
Lett. “What we try to show in these seminars is that people with
criminal records have not lost their talent because at some point
in their lives they committed a crime. They still have all the
skills and qualifications and are determined to prove they can be
NewLife also works with ex-offenders to prepare them for
employment by helping them to examine their skills and talents and
so identify possible jobs. The main goal is to prevent clients from
re-offending by not placing them into work experience but
transferring them into real jobs with a salary and a future.
NewLife researches training programmes, composes CVs, provides
legal advice on disclosure of convictions and helps clients prepare
Many clients are referred by Jobcentre Plus advisers who often
do not have the detailed knowledge of what to tell a prospective
employer about a criminal record. So, NewLife is beginning to
provide training for advisers, and recently ran workshops which
focused on criminal record disclosure and stereotyping at the
“Barriers to Work” training day organised by Jobcentre Plus.
The overall results for NewLife are impressive. Since December
2003 more than 400 clients have attended a first interview and
registered with the service. Of these, 234 have attended a second
interview and 50 of these clients have found work. One such client
says: “The consultation I received, and feedback I gained, was very
helpful. I hope to now move forward in the right direction.”
- Separate the functions – NewLife has a team that works almost
exclusively with ex-offenders and a team that works almost
exclusively with employers. “We have deliberately kept the teams
separate in order to maintain our position as the ‘honest broker’.
For both ex-offenders and employers the first time they encounter
the other can be a daunting experience and we want to ensure that
the situation is well managed,” says Lett.
- Recruit diversely – the NewLife teams have been recruited from
the private, public and voluntary sectors. This diversity means
they are able to communicate knowledgably with all the groups they
- Recruit teams at the same time so everyone can be inducted
together. “The way the project was set up also meant that policies
and procedures were well sorted out before work started with
clients,” says Lett.