Eight social enterprises giving ex-offenders a second chance

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Jack Brockway
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Published on 15 December 2020

I’ve long argued that anyone who has struggled in life deserves a second chance to get back up on their feet and realise their true potential. The idea that no one should be judged by their worst moment lies at the heart of my passion for criminal justice reform and many other issues. When it comes to people with criminal convictions, we know that the dignity of work is an important part of rehabilitation. Having a job is an important factor in staying out of trouble and keeping re-offending rates low.

Image by Virgin.com
Image by Virgin.com

Businesses can play an important role in bringing about attitude change and in building healthy, cohesive societies. Employers should recognise that people from disadvantaged backgrounds often show enormous determination to find work in the face of significant personal challenges. It’s a huge, untapped source of skill and passion. Across Virgin, we have hired hundreds of people with criminal convictions over the years, guided by a firm belief that employment is critical to reducing the vicious cycle of incarceration and re-offending.

Image from Redemption Roasters
Image from Redemption Roasters

In practice, our businesses have been rewarded with access to an incredible talent pool of motivated and hard-working employees who value and cherish that somewhere along their personal journey someone was willing to recognise their potential and give them an opportunity to get back on their feet. However, direct employment is not the only option. We are also looking at our supply chains: can we source products and services from or partner with enterprises that are giving people a second chance through training, skill-building and meaningful work? If you need a little inspiration, here are some businesses and social enterprises in the UK that are doing exactly that:

  • Redemption Roasters is operating a coffee roastery at HMP The Mount and has launched barista academies in several UK prisons, supporting employment of ex-offenders in the coffee industry.

  • The Skill Mill provides training employment opportunities in water and land based management to young ex-offenders aged 16-18, helping to reduce flood risk and improve the local environment. In six years, The Skill Mill has helped 158 young people into jobs.

  • Freedom Bakery is training Scottish prisoners on day release as bakers and pastry chefs, offering a pathway into long-term employment upon release.

  • Offploy is a social recruitment business formed by ex-prisoners, connecting business and people with criminal convictions and support both parties throughout every step of the recruitment and employment process. Founder Jacob Hill has also recently launched inmade.org, selling high-quality prison-made gifts.

  • The Clink Charity operates training restaurants and cafes open to the public in five UK prisons, plus an event catering business.

    There is also great work happening in the US.

  • Flikshop: Marcus Bullock was just 15-years-old when he was sentenced to prison and he says that it was his letters from his mother that gave him hope during this dark period in his life. Research shows that contact from the outside world has a marked impact on people leaving prison and not reoffending. Marcus has now set up his own company Flikshop to connect families to prisoners and launched a campaign called Moments of Empathy – to get more postcards sent to prisoners who won’t be visited by their families due to the pandemic.

  • The Last Mile prepares incarcerated individuals for successful re-entry through business and technology training. They started in San Quentin prison outside of San Francisco. Virgin Unite was an early investor helping them scale. They're now operating in prisons in five states, and their graduates are landing jobs at leading tech companies as developers.

  • Defy Ventures has created a powerful in-prison programme for their Entrepreneurs in Training (EIT) and for volunteers coming in from the outside. EITs work through a curriculum that includes employment-readiness, healthy habits, and entrepreneurship training. Throughout the program, large groups of volunteers from businesses come inside to offer feedback on resumes and interviews, and to judge pitch contests.

As we rebuild from the pandemic, I would like to encourage more businesses around the world to see the benefits of being open employers.

Looking beyond stereotypes and assumptions to see the skills, experience and potential of people who represent a broader spectrum of the society our companies serve helps change business for good and our societies for the better.