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Ex-offenders represent a huge opportunity

How it’s in the industry’s interest, not just its conscience, to embrace those coming out prison.

Having first started working in partnership with the Prison Service in 1996 while building Bluewater in Kent, Lendlease and the not-for-profit company it founded in 2007, Be Onsite, have amassed great expertise in working with prisoners and ex-offenders.

But we must understand that this is a tricky and unpredictable road where mistakes can and will be made. Knowing how to put things right and working with the right partners is crucial. 

Earlier this year, Be Onsite and Lendlease, together with expert ex-offender charity Bounce Back, industry specialists Knauf and Encon, and developer Land Securities, established a state-of-the-art drylining training centre within HMP Brixton.

It is a great example of the industry working in partnership to respond to the urgent need for trained workers, while demonstrating how the sector can support in-prison training in a sponsored model.

Meeting a genuine skills need

The centre will train nearly 100 prisoners a year, meeting a genuine need within the industry for dryliners. Work is offered to trainees by the partners, along with other organisations, upon release.

Be Onsite is also working with prisoners to access work prior to their release if they become eligible for release on temporary licence (ROTL). In certain cases when an offender is in their last year of sentence prior to probation, they may be eligible for ROTL.

In these instances the individual is allowed to leave the prison each day to travel to and from a designated place of work.

A specific area of expertise for Be Onsite, ROTL is an excellent way of demonstrating how a steady job started while an offender is in prison and continued post-release can reduce reoffending. We are working with around nine individuals a year, though numbers can fluctuate.

Low reoffence rates

Data from the Prison Governors’ Association suggests the reoffending rate is lower among those prisoners released for work through ROTL.

This opportunity to experience open conditions and temporary release in the community is a pivotal part of rehabilitation for people who have served long sentences.

“While most of us return home at the end of a long working day to the embrace of our families, an offender will step back into the prison system”

But this can only happen if the individual is actually employed by a company.

While there are many charities and organisations doing great work with offenders, Be Onsite is the only one focused on construction, not only supporting these individuals while they are in prison, but actually employing them during and after their sentence.

The key to success is all about selection and support. Working hand in hand with the Prison Service, Be Onsite looks for candidates who show commitment and drive.

We look for people who will prove to be reliable, good team workers and have a can-do attitude in what is sometimes a very challenging and physically demanding environment.

Culture clash

ROTL is not an easy option for an individual. It takes great strength of character to negotiate a balance between the prison regime and trying to integrate into the working world outside the prison walls.

While most of us return home at the end of a long working day to the embrace of our families, an offender will step back into the prison system, which may mean immediate lock up, often returning too late for a hot meal, with no opportunity to bathe or shower and the relentless clamour of the prison throughout the night.

Support is vital. When an offender is employed by Be Onsite, we provide bespoke pastoral care to help people navigate between the two worlds. Practical pre-employment training helps build up confidence ahead of stepping onto a live site.

“This approach attracts new entrants to the sector while also making a highly valuable contribution to reducing reoffending”

The team provides one-to-one support around both practical and emotional issues and also gives additional support when it comes to liaising with the prison for the relevant permissions. 

Such liaison is especially critical when it comes to possible breaches of licence. This could and does happen for various reasons – some which to the outside world would seem incredibly minor, like going for a walk during lunch break, when they might be expected to stay within the confines of the site.

Tackling the drop-out risk

This support is crucial – particularly after the first month of employment for the following two months when drop-outs traditionally can occur.

Working closely with site supervisors, Be Onsite will tackle and resolve any emerging problems. This gives confidence to the site team, who can then focus on their day job of delivering their project.

Ministry of Justice figures show that just 26 per cent of people entered employment on release from prison in 2012 to 2013. Yet research shows that having a job, somewhere safe to live and family support are the three things that cut the risk of reoffending.

This approach attracts new entrants to the sector – especially important at this time of dire skills shortages – while also making a highly valuable contribution to reducing reoffending.

Be Onsite works with Lendlease to ensure the regeneration taking place in our capital does not simply change physical structures, but delivers on the opportunity to transform lives.

Jessica Mellor-Clark is head of Be Onsite

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