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People with Convictions


There are approximately 8,200 prisoners in Scotland's prisons and 560 young offenders. Most of these are on short-term sentences. Moving from the justice system into quality, sustained employment can be a profound challenge for many. To illustrate this point, UK statistics indicate that 75% of ex-offenders have no job on release

Barriers Faced

Having a job is one of the most effective means of preventing re-offending (employment reduces the probability of re-offending by 33-50%) but offenders face a number of barriers re-engaging with the labour market. These barriers include: 

  • No or low qualifications.
  • Poor basic skills - e.g. literacy and numeracy.
  • Poor or incomplete work histories with little experience of stable employment.
  • Low self-confidence. 
  • Perceived or actual discrimination from employers and colleagues.
  • Impact of criminal record limiting jobs available to them.
  • How to disclose a criminal record to employers as constructively as possible.
  • Health and/or substance misuse problems. 

Policies and Interventions

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) sets out to improve the rehabilitation prospects of people who have been convicted of a criminal offence, served their sentence and have since lived on the right side of the law. The general rule is that, once a conviction is spent, the convicted person does not have to reveal it and cannot be prejudiced by it. This means that if an ex-offender whose convictions are all spent is asked on a job application form, or at a job interview, whether they have a criminal record they do not have to reveal or admit its existence. Moreover, an employer cannot refuse to employ someone or dismiss someone because of a "spent" conviction.

Working for Growth aims to make the transition into quality, sustained employment easier and reduce the chances of re-offending. Since it was established in 2008, the Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) has been one of the Scottish Government's major change initiatives in the Justice sector. It has delivered a range of cross-organisational projects aimed at reducing rates of reoffending, and so reducing levels of crime and victimisation, and reducing the resultant costs to society and the economy. The Reducing Reoffending Programme recognises that an individual's ability to get and retain employment can be a significant contributing factor in reducing their risk of re-offending.

The second phase of RRP (RRP2) will run from 2012 to 2015, and is undertaking a number of initiatives which will focus on ensuring that there are effective and efficient adult community justice services in place across Scotland. In particular, the RRP2 Throughcare and Services project will be examining the effectiveness of various forms of support and guidance available to offenders as they complete custodial and community sentences.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) continues to develop its employability and learning strategy in a way that maximises the scope for partnership working and, importantly, helps offenders develop employability skills. In particular, the service is working closely with the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions, third sector agencies and its contracted learning providers to progress a range of key strategic aims. These include:

  • Ensuring that employment, education and training continue to be considered as key features of an individual's case management considerations. 
  • Increasing the number of prisoners undertaking purposeful activity and work during their custodial sentence.
  • Strengthening links to employer organisations and increasing the number of prisoners gaining work experience placements prior to release. 
  • Developing a comprehensive package of wider ranging and accredited employability skills including life skills and communications that will have external currency with employers and training organisations. 

In supporting ex-offenders towards and into employment, good practice suggests the need to:

  • Ensure a client-centred approach is adopted that focuses on individuals' talents and potential, rather than their history. 
  • Use an appropriate assessment tool to establish baselines and to set client determined goals. 
  • Position the role of the 'consistent trusted adviser' at the heart of the service - particularly for those leaving custody. 
  • Offer a genuinely integrated service to meet client support needs and fully explore the opportunities to embed employability within community-based sentences. 
  • Look for new and creative ways to engage employers.