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Businesses urged to ‘look past offenders’ convictions’ to help them get into job market

Davina Tanner of Cafe Britannia. Picture: Archant

Davina Tanner of Cafe Britannia. Picture: Archant

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

Business owners are being encouraged to help offenders get a foothold in the job market to drive down the £15bn annual bill which reoffending incurs for the country.

Justice secretary David Gauke has announced a plan to put offenders “on the path to employment from the day they enter prison”, with a programme to prioritise training and employment opportunities.

But he said a “cultural change” is needed to support the strategy and is encouraging employers “to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential”.

Britannia Enterprises, which runs Café Britannia in Norwich, was launched in 2014 in partnership with the MoJ and Norwich Prison to help rehabilitate serving and ex-offenders.

Its model has proved successful – just 5% of participants in its programme end up reoffending, compared to the national average of around 46%.

Founder and director Davina Tanner was made an OBE in 2015 for her work on the programme.

She said: “To reduce reoffending, the biggest impact you can have on someone is giving them a job, so what the MoJ is doing is really positive.”

The MoJ said people leaving prison who find a job are between six and nine percentage points less likely to reoffend than those who do not.

As part of its education and employment strategy, prison governors will be able to tailor education and training programmes to meet the local economy’s requirements.

A lynchpin of the scheme is releasing more offenders on temporary licence to attend jobs outside prison.

Gez Chetal, owner of the Thomas Paine Hotel in Thetford, and wife Rosy run a project called Prismart, which works with four prisons in Norfolk and Suffolk to provide training sessions for offenders and find suitable work experience placements.

They are also working with the Norfolk and Suffolk Community Rehabilitation Company to help reducing reoffending.

Mr Chetal said Prismart helps provide offenders with “self confidence, self-motivation and a will to carry on in life”.

Nova Fairbank, public affairs manager at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “With many businesses facing skills shortages, they need to be open to all avenues that could help close the gap, including considering ex-offenders.”

The power of employment

Giving prisoners gainful employment is integral to Norwich-based community interest company Britannia Enterprises.

The social enterprise behind Cafe Britannia, Guildhall Britannia and Park Britannia provides employment opportunities for serving and ex-offenders, who make up the majority of its 60-strong workforce.

Director Davina Tanner says provisions in the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) education and employment strategy to release offenders on temporary licence to undertake real work with an employer could prove infinitely valuable.

“Most prisons have amazing training facilities, but they [offenders] need experience to get a job and for that you need experience in a real life situation, not in a classroom,” she said.

The MoJ said that release on temporary licence has been proven as an “effective rehabilitation tool”, but it is “currently not being used to its potential”.

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