An Interview With Jacob Hill

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We are excited to announce that we very recently partnered with Offploy, the fantastic organisation that supports ex-offenders to find stable employment on release.

Offploy manage the entire recruitment process, from start to finish, helping employers hire ex-offenders fairly and safely into their organisations. Their key goal is to help 250 people with criminal records find meaningful employment by July 2019. 

Having firmly established ourselves as specialists within Offender Education and Resettlement, we have partnered with Offploy in order to continue to provide our dedicated support of offender rehabilitation. We understand that education and skills training that leads to sustainable employment plays a vital part in helping someone find purpose, security and confidence on release. Together, Careers in Justice and Offploy hope to continue to promote offender education and employment, which have been recognised as the key components in reducing reoffending.

Having served almost 10 months, Offploy’s founder, Jacob Hill, has a strong understanding of the challenges and barriers standing between offenders and finding a stable job. We spoke to him about his experiences of prison, his organisation, offender education and what he thinks needs to happen in the sector in the future. 

Could you tell us a little about your own experiences of prison – how did you end up there, what was it like, and what impact has it had on you?

I started my life as the son of two loving police officers; I had everything I ever wanted in life. By the time I made it to University, I had started a business called The Lazy Camper, your all in one festival camping package from £69.99.

At 20 I received over £300k investment, hired a team of 6 staff, sponsored the UK’s largest music festival and was crowned Yorkshire’s young entrepreneur of the year.

By 21, I was broke and arrested for possession with intent to supply class A and B Drugs to persons unknown. I was sentenced to 28 months.

Can you tell us a little about Offploy? Why did you decide to set it up?

When prison wasn’t at all what I expected it to be (after watching Shawshank Redemption over and over again), I very quickly became inspired by the lads around me. They had so much talent and so many skills but unfortunately lacked the self-esteem to do anything positive with them.

One man I met was a quality surveyor in the boxer short sewing machine shop. He told me he would not have the opportunities I had in life as I had a degree and he had ‘nothing’. After weeks of speaking with him it became apparent he had done so many qualifications in prison that he had enough about him to start an Open University foundation degree in something sports related. He couldn’t believe it, and for the first time in his life, he applied for a prospectus. This was all the inspiration I needed to start Offploy, and 3 months into what was almost a 10-month prison sentence I began writing my business plan. My thinking was that given my previous experience, maybe I could speak the language of employers to show people with criminal convictions as a reliable, skilled and determined pool of labour that so many overlook, and it seems to have worked out so far!

What are your goals for Offploy?

I have just one goal: to place 250 people with criminal convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable employment by July 2019.

Whilst in prison, did you make use of the establishment’s education department? What was on offer to you during your time in prison?

I was fortunate to have NOVUS as my education provider in the prison I was in. Through them I developed a great understanding of their ‘Employability’ course. Naturally, I was learning from it to see how I could help people with criminal convictions find employment.

However, it wasn’t their great range of courses that supported me in starting Offploy; it was their staff. There were three tutors who all worked for NOVUS that helped me with my business plan at any time of day (well, anytime I was allowed out of my cell!). One Staff member, who was a major part of the ideas process, would take my plan and edit it for spelling/grammar and logic testing in her own time. I owe a lot to that lady.

Do you think that education and employment are an important part of offender rehabilitation? If so, why?

I think an education is key to addressing offending behaviour and opening people up to a world of opportunity. I am biased towards saying employment is the silver bullet to reducing reoffending, but I am also aware that it is not right for everyone immediately. Education is the foundation of decisions and it comes in all shapes and sizes from functional skills to anger management. Prison should be about giving people the tools to make their own decisions, make mistakes, learn from them and ultimately apply that learning to reducing their own reoffending.

Once a person is ‘job-ready’, (such as when their accommodation needs are met, they have a support network and their offending behaviour has been addressed) I think a job is the last piece in the puzzle. There is a lot to be said for providing people with meaningful activity to not only reduce their reoffending but also build their self-esteem; the strongest agent in reversing recidivism.

What advice would you give to people considering teaching in prisons?

Change a life and do it! I was terrified of going to prison. I thought it would be full of violence and I was certain I wouldn’t survive. How wrong I was. The education departments were amazing to see as the men who signed up for courses were grateful to be there as opposed to spending half a day in their cell, or even worse… a repetitive workshop. I went to university and saw more of a desire to learn from the prisoners than I have from any student.

What would you like to see happening in the future in terms of offender education and offender employment?

I think education with action is the key part here. All too often, I see training providers offer to increase a candidate’s ‘employability’ whilst in the prison. They will talk about how the industry is paying ‘£x’ per hour for each certificate a person has, but offer very little support in gaining real employment outcomes. Personally, I would like to see training providers offered contracts based on their employment track record and guaranteed partnerships with local and major employers. It is evident that training provision has become a cutthroat pricing war and the end-user, it appears, has been forgotten about.

The same cannot be said for the major education providers however, who have significantly invested in the employment of their graduates. Novus have launched a ‘through the gate’ service and Milton Keynes college have placed 193 people into employment. This is the type of work the criminal justice sector, employers and most importantly, the government, should be supporting.