University of Edinburgh
The University is committed to social responsibility but how does it demonstrate this commitment in the wider community? Should the University play a role in Scottish rehabilitation initiatives by incorporating prison labour into its supply chains?
Looking beyond the UK, the Director-General of Sweden’s prison and probation service Nils Öberg reports that ‘Prison is not for Punishment in the Swedish System‘, and that the Swedish criminal justice system’s dwindling prison population and low reoffending rates indicate they’re doing something right. Danny Kruger of Only Connect writes that Texas is Closing Prisons in Favour of Rehab.
As it happened
On December 4th, 2014 we held a forum to reflect on the ethics of prison labour and the University’s role in the rehabilitation of prisoners in Scotland. The title refers to the possibility of Edinburgh University offering work placements to prisoners on day release, and also to the wider issue of employment for people with criminal records. Our speakers, and many of the discussion participants, were in agreement that rehabilitation through opportunities for work and education is the right way forward, and discussion centred around how to proceed accordingly. Professor Tim Hayward (Director, Just World Institute) chaired the event.
Briege Nugent (Howard League Scotland, PhD Candidate University of Edinburgh) highlighted the need to focus on communities where a large number of people have a criminal record, rather than focusing only on prisons themselves. Typically these communities have higher levels of poverty and mental health issues. She called for more consideration of who prisoners are as people, and what is driving them to commit offences. She argued that universities need to update their recruitment processes, and do much more to actively support people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK, including those with criminal records.
Richard Thomson (Director for Policy and Product Development, Recruit with Conviction) described Recruit with Conviction’s efforts, working directly with employers to encourage provision of jobs for people leaving prison. He argued that it can be a good business decision to employ and train people who have been in prison, as there is a wealth of skill, knowledge, and entrepreneurial spirit in this population, considering that one in five men and one in ten women in Scotland have a criminal record. He called for employers to ‘Ban the Box’; that is, to remove the tick box from application forms that asks about criminal convictions, leaving this conversation to later on in the recruitment process. He proposed that the University of Edinburgh could play a leading role in this area through training, apprenticeships, and updating its recruitment process.
Pete White (National Coordinator, Positive Prison? Positive Futures…) called for consideration of prisoners’ future roles as citizens, rather than as ex-offenders or convicts. He also highlighted the reoffending cycle and the need for this to be considered a public issue that we should all play a role in tackling. He described how several companies are making commitments to employing people with criminal records, but are not making this information public, meaning these success stories remain hidden. He called not only for the University to make efforts in terms of employing people with criminal records, but for the Scottish Prison Service to do the same. He also proposed that universities should make it easier for people in prisons to become students.
Dennis Phillips (Academy and Welfare Manager, Timpson Foundation) described Timpson’s work to provide employment opportunities for those who have left prison, and to provide work experience for those still in prison through Timpson training academies in prisons in England. The first training academy opened in 2008, and there will soon be seven such academies, including two in women’s prisons, providing training to 120 people. This collaboration between business, prisons, and the police reduces reoffending, and Timpson’s have a high retention rate for people employed in the business after leaving prison, at 75%. There is greater involvement of business in rehabilitation schemes in England than in Scotland, including an Employers Forum initiated by Timpson Foundation, which has over 100 active company members.
Following the talks, Scottish Prison Service representatives Iain Davidson (SPS Director of Strategy & Innovation) and Jim Kerr (Governor of HMP Shotts) provided brief reflections on the speaker presentations. The representatives expressed the Scottish Prison Service’s commitment to social justice and rehabilitation of citizens, and encouraged universities to do more in this area.