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ex-offenders, Timpsons, Greggs,

Where do you go to recruit skilled, enthusiastic new staff? Maybe you put a notice up in your window or approach the Jobcentre. Perhaps you ask amongst your existing staff or advertise online. One place you’ve probably not considered is the prison service.

Employing ex-offenders might sound a little unconventional but it’s a tried and tested method for many businesses already. Bakery chain Greggs, for example, has employed 100 ex-offenders since 2012, 32% of who now hold some form of a management role. 

High street retailer Timpson, meanwhile, is the largest employer of ex-offenders in the UK with around 10-12% of its current workforce – around 650 people – recruited directly from prison or having an offending background. Taking into account all those that have gone through the business so far, that figure is more likely to be in the region of 1,200. 

In employing prison leavers, these businesses see something that many others don’t – the huge pool of overlooked and undervalued talent that in actual fact is a great asset. What if we told you there are 11 million people, roughly 1/6 of the UK population, with a criminal conviction? That’s a lot of people to disregard without even a second thought. 

Still need some convincing? Well, firstly, many ex-offenders leave prison job-ready, which means they have a host of skills and qualifications they’ve learned from workshops in prison, many of which are run by external businesses. London-based coffee chain Redemption Roasters, for example, runs a barista and roaster academy within Aylesbury prison, teaching young offenders coffee industry skills. Your next frier, server, kitchen porter or chef could be among them!


  • Only 17% of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release.
  • Ex-offenders who get a job after prison are up to 9 percentage points less likely to re-offend.
  • 81% of people think that businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society.
  • 86% of employers of ex-offenders rate them as good at their job.
  • 92% of employers say diverse recruitment has enhanced their reputation

Source: Ministry of Justice

Evidence shows that many ex-offenders are hard workers, stay longer in a role and prove to be more honest than other candidates because they appreciate the opportunity of being given employment when others have turned them down. Research by the Ministry of Justice shows that 80% of employers of ex-offenders positively rate their reliability, motivation, attendance and performance.

And there’s a financial benefit to your business too. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has calculated that filling the average non-managerial vacancy costs around £2,000. By employing ex-offenders, the prison service organises any interviews with candidates before they are released, so you can choose the best person for your business, thereby reducing your overheads associated with recruitment.

You’ve probably still got some reservations, which is natural, but it’s important to bear in mind that people with criminal records are a broad and varied group – serving time for a motor conviction is very different to serving time for murder.

To offer some context, in the 12 months to June 2018, 71% of people serving a prison sentence had committed a non-violent crime, with 47% serving a sentence of six months or less. It could be that someone’s criminal record is irrelevant to the job you’re looking to fill. Plus, there are hundreds of thousands of law-abiding people with convictions that, equally, could be the right fit for your business. 

There’s one other important factor at play here and that’s the satisfaction associated with knowing you are making a difference to somebody’s life. Research shows that 61% of prisoners re-offend when they leave prison, but this is reduced to 19% if in full-time employment. So you’ll not just be helping someone turn their life around, but also making a difference in your community. And being socially responsible can be good for businesses, research by the Ministry of Justice shows 81% of people regard businesses employing ex-offenders as making a positive contribution to society.

Ex-offenders often have many amazing skills and a host of life experience, which can add diversity and interest to your workforce. Why not do the right thing and give someone a chance? 

Hopefully, by reading this article weve helped change your attitude towards employing ex-offenders and that youll see their future potential rather than simply their past crimes.

To hear more on the subject, listen to the Ceres Podcast with Darren Burns, national recruitment manager at Timpson and head of the Timpson Foundation, which specialises in the recruitment of prison leavers.

Top tips

  • Start small, look to recruit one or two ex-offenders and find your feet.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with the level of risk by determining which offences you are and aren’t willing to accept. These filters can be applied at the recruitment stage so that the prison service can put forward suitable candidates. For example, you might be willing to accept someone with a motoring offence but not a conviction for theft.
  • Create an informal and non-judgemental interview process where you start the conversation by discussing any criminal convictions. After that, treat it as you would any other interview.
  • Carry out a full risk assessment, weighing up an applicant’s skills, qualifications, experience and circumstances surrounding their criminal record against the role, the responsibilities and the environment they will be working in. You may have more confidence when considering an applicant’s criminal record if adequate safeguards are in place.

For more information and to register your interest in employing ex-offenders and prisoners, click here.

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