Careers in Justice has been looking at the ways offender education and employment can help reduce reoffending and lead to successful resettlement. We spoke to Jane Gould Smith, founder of Clean Sheet – a registered charity that is building a National Directory of Employers willing to hire ex-offenders - to learn how and why their service works.
“Prison is the easy bit”
Two things reduce the chances of someone reoffending by up to 50%.
Somewhere to live and a job to go to.
Yes, it IS that simple.
Seven years ago, I had an idea.
We should build a National Employers Directory, exclusively for people who had committed crimes. These employers would agree to actively consider prison leavers for work, training or volunteering opportunities - regardless of their criminal record - within the terms of their license.
So, Clean Sheet Employers Directory was born; and now, every day, with hundreds of vacancies available, our team helps men and women to escape from the life-sucking misery of repeated reoffending.
Put simply, we support Prison Leavers into sustainable employment. (Or Ex-Offenders. Or People from Custody. Or even the coyly euphemistic People with Convictions.)
But that’s just the surface - our end result.
Dress it up as you will, our men and women come to our doors with baggage and a feeling of stigma that has often been accumulated through a lifetime’s litany of knocks, disappointments and prejudice.
People have personalities. Different ways of speaking, diverse backgrounds and most importantly, skills, hopes and dreams. This is what makes them people. Some quiet, some mouthy, some kind, some violent, some manipulative and some just sad. But they're all people. All deserving individual treatment.
But in the system, they’re often treated as an amorphous mass.
You know, prison is the easy bit.
Our system makes wonderful, acquiescent, helpful, yes-sir-no-sir, institutionalized, dependent prisoners. Because prisoners are easier to deal with than people, but we’re not so good at preparing them for the realities of life on the outside.
Our Clean Sheet members need a lot more than a good CV and disclosure letters. They need to feel the real hope that comes with a Clean Sheet.
What’s the first thing that people notice about Clean Sheet? Everyone treats them as an equal. A person. Not as a number, shoehorned into an arbitrary category of “multiple issues” - but an individual.
So, we’re all about building confidence, raising self-esteem, finding a way to deal with the snakes and ladders of job seeking and setting out their pathway for practical aspiration.
Recently, I spent a couple of weeks persuading a nervous former prisoner to get in touch with our Members Team to start his journey towards finding work.
After their first proper conversation, he tweeted that the person he spoke to was just lovely and sounded beautiful. Here’s part of an email from a member following his job offer:
“…can I add my thanks and kindest regards for what you and the entire team do at Clean Sheet; your totally unconditional non-judgmental support and patience, is truly heartening.”
And the result of all this personal, individual care?
We get employers calling to say they're so pleased with the Clean Sheet member who’s been on their staff for two years, and have we got anyone else who might be suitable for a new vacancy.
We have jobs emailed to us before they go onto the open market, because employers are realising that prison leavers have a broad variety of skills, know how to be punctual and polite and really value the opportunity they’re being offered. There’s also the question of Corporate Social Responsibility - often part of a Board Mission Statement.
We have prison leavers daring to apply for jobs that might lead to a proper career. Not just odd bits of labouring on a building site or seasonal warehouse work. Jobs where they have a chance to build positive relationships with fellow workers, and as they do so, rebuild their lives, take care of their families and move further and further away from lives of crime.
That’s rehabilitation - that’s a Clean Sheet.
Jane Gould Smith - Following a career in Financial Services and the High-Tech sector, Jane became involved in building a network of volunteer-led Job Clubs. From there, she realised that the problems facing prison leavers were exponentially greater than those of other Job Club members. She resolved to address this issue by starting Clean Sheet, a registered charity that is building a National Directory of Employers willing to hire ex-offenders.