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'People we recruit from prison are on average more loyal, more honest and stay with us for longer'

The UK’s leading employer of people with convictions says there can be huge benefits in hiring ex-prisoners.

Chief Executive of the Timpson Group, James Timpson speaks at the IPRT seminar earlier this week.
Chief Executive of the Timpson Group, James Timpson speaks at the IPRT seminar earlier this week.
Image: Mark Stedman

JAMES TIMPSON RUNS his family business.

Since 2011, he has been chief executive of the Timpson Group, a string of retail outlets which are spread out all across the UK.

The Timpson Group owns a wide range of different retail outlets. The companies under the group’s banner include cobblers, locksmiths, photo shops and dry cleaners.

In total, they have about 1,850 outlets spread out across the UK (as well as a small number in Ireland).

The group employs about 4,000 people across all of its outlets. What’s notable about the company is that 10% of these people are ex-convicts.

Timpson is an equal opportunities employer. As the the company started to expand in recent years, management found it difficult to fill the wide range of posts opening up.

Just over 15 years ago, James Timpson was invited on a tour of a young offenders open prison in Warrington. He was impressed by his tour guide (a 19-year-old serving three years) and would later go on to hire him.

Following this, Timpson started visiting prisons across the north west of England aiming to recruit people to the business. Initially, he had some issues.

“I made loads of mistakes because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Timpson told a seminar in Dublin earlier this week.

“I was recruiting some of the wrong people. There was one guy I paid off his drug dealer three times.

My mother-in-law looked after someone’s dog for six months.

Recruiting prisoners 

As he progressed in his recruitment, Timpson began to learn the right and wrong things to do. Today, the company employs over 400 people with convictions.

“Over time we just developed a system,” he said.

Timpson was the keynote speaker at a seminar in Dublin this week organised by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) around the topic of hiring people with a conviction.

The IPRT campaigns for the rights of prisoners and for progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

The purpose of the seminar was to highlight the recruitment potential of people with previous convictions and to try to combat the stigma against hiring people who have committed crimes in the past.

“As Ireland moves towards full employment, finding the right staff is an increasing challenge for employers,” said Fíona Ní Chinnéide, director of the IPRT.

People with convictions for offending behaviour can offer huge potential to any workforce, and are highly motivated when given the opportunity to work.

Chinnéide said however that preconceptions from employers prevented them from “seeing beyond the conviction”.

NO FEE 9 Irish Penal Reform Trust Fíona Ní Chinnéide said that companies should look to former offenders to fill roles. Source: Mark Stedman

“These preconceptions can stray into recruitment for education and training courses. Because of this, having a criminal history can present life-long obstacles to work, education, training and other aspects of life,” she said.

Studies show that being able to access employment and training is crucial in preventing a return to offending, which, in turn, strengthens communities and makes society safer.

Hiring prisoners

Ireland currently close to 4,000 prisoners in the system.

There are a number of advocacy bodies and groups providing support as they finish their terms and return to wider society.

The Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO) works with people to help them avoid re-offending and re-imprisonment in the future.

It provides a number of key services to work with prisoners to help them find employment and integrate better back into society.

Speaking at the seminar, Paddy Richardson, chief executive of IASIO said it had 3,000 people referred to its services every year.

He said that in general the organisation found that the reception from employers in Ireland was generally “very good” around hiring people with convictions.

“We find that when we are open and honest… our employers in Ireland would be certainly open to recruitment,” he said.

We know that employment is the single greatest product in reducing reoffending behaviour.

Richardson, said however, that the cost of insuring someone with a conviction can be very high and that this needed to be addressed.

For James Timpson – who is also chair of the Prison Reform Trust was granted an OBE for his work with former prisoners – its important to change the culture around hiring people with convictions.

He said that the Timpson Group hires people based on ability and personality, and not on judging their past.

“It wasn’t just about recruiting great people into the business, it was also about changing the culture and the tone of the business,” he said.

“Because what you’re saying if you’re recruiting people from prison you’re saying we are recruiting people based on ability not based on prejudice.

And for me the people we recruit from prison are on average more loyal, more honest and stay with us for longer than the people we recruit off the street.

Read: The Dóchas female prison experienced the highest number of assaults by convicts on officers last year

Read: No damages for prisoner whose rights were breached by being forced to defecate in chamber pot

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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