Scotland the Blog: Prison works till people try and find work (Jonathan Aitken)

It's doubtful a well connected politician like Aitken would have suffered the indignity of unemployment for long but it’s to his credit that he highlighted the issue.

The employment of ex-offenders has been on my mind recently and I have been working with the excellent Charity Recruit with Conviction. We advertised their Scottish event schedule widely and I hope some of you managed to attend. Last week I was in Inverness. A great discussion took place with Richard Thomson from RWC and Nigel Graham from Scottish Government. The Westminster government already plans to reduce disclosure periods for declaring a criminal offence in job applications. Scotland often in the vanguard of human rights and progressive approaches to criminal justice was left behind. Now Kenny MacAskill the activist Justice. Secretary wants action.

>30% of Scottish men and 10% of women have some sort of criminal record

CIPD as the gateway profession to employment has a key role to play but why should you be interested? Well about 30% of Scottish men and10% of women have some sort of criminal record. This means that the amount of us who have someone close in that situation is high. Think of your ten degrees of Kevin Bacon, you'll be three degrees away from someone with a criminal record. This does not always mean violence or theft. Indictable driving offences and, a drunken episode can result in a five year disclosure period. Any kind of prison term is never spent.

The problem as we all know is that the declaration comes early in the application process and people don't often get to explain. Some employers assume that anyone with a conviction is a risk. That's human and understandable and some us even think being locked out of the job market is the price you pay for whatever wrong you committed. The trouble is that though the best remedy to offending behaviour is employment; the disclosure requirements often amount to a hidden sentence.

Some people need to be tried, convicted and some should be jailed. But prison costs around £40,000 a year. That’s more than a top MBA! Putting people through the courts as we all know makes it even more expensive. In terms of productivity and human capital it's a total waste. In the clinical language of the criminologist ex offenders without work have surplus ”unstructured" time at their disposal  A more homespun interpretation talks of the “Devil finding work for idle hands”.  The latest research from Glasgow University shows that those who do find work are more likely to go straight. The data shows a 5 to 10 lower rate of offending depending on sentence length. The effect is cumulative the more people in their network who get jobs the more they "desist" from crime.

Scotland has 2.3 million workers that means about 400,000 could be locked out of the job market. From the point of view of Scotland's Skilled Future this  cannot continue. Nor can it continue from the perspective of public safety.

So what can we as the Scottish HR community do? The short answer: A lot. CIPD Scotland is helping to redraft the legislation. The Scottish Government is interested in our views and we urgently need to tap  the views of HR professionals especially those in resourcing and talent planning an open door to influence and shape policy for the better.  So, contact me if you would like to help shape the policy.  Watch this space for an event on the issue.

Nelson Mandela - here's someone who didn’t deserve to be in prison at all. Some people who labelled him as a terrorist (and when I was at university in 1991 some shamefully wore T shirts demanding he be hanged). They all now wish they boycotted bananas and called like my hero Nobel physicist Peter Higgs for disinvestment from the pension schemes which took a return from apartheid diamonds. I had to lobby the railway pension scheme my own union ASLEF over this in I think 1985.

I won't bore anyone with my Mandela leadership lessons, as many are doing. I think he was a unique leader and I had the privilege of seeing him dance in George Square in 1993. Though he had a long life it wasn't much when you consider he was imprisoned as he approached 47 then released as an old man of 74 in 1990. There is a neat numerical irony there. He was a very old man when you take South African life expectancy into account where a male currently expects 57 years from birth. 

That Nelson got to be an exceptionally old man is some kind of justice.

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