Fallen television presenter Ashley Blake has backed calls for employers to give ex-convicts a chance amid a national debate over jobs for offenders.
The release of footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans, who is reportedly returning to former club Sheffield United on a contract worth more than £500,000, has sparked debate over employment opportunities to ex-offenders.
However, former BBC TV presenter Blake, who was jailed for two years in 2009 for wounding a teenager at his Sutton Coldfield bar, said businesses are missing out by shunning candidates with criminal records.
The ex-Midlands Today presenter fronted an event showcasing success stories in firms that have taken a chance on ex-convicts and played their part in the rehabilitation process.
He said: “Give an ex-offender a home, a job, and support – preferably family support – and the chances of re-offending are much reduced.
“If I can combine my experience and my business skills to encourage businesses to at least consider employing an ex-offender, it’s well worth doing.”
More than 50 people including local business leaders attended a breakfast meeting in Solihull to consider the benefits of offering employment opportunities to ex-offenders hosted by Mr Blake.
The event was a joint initiative between employment and training experts Pertemps People Development Group (PPDG) and Solihull MBC and highlighted the benefits of the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFFRR), which is led by James Timpson, chief executive of the Timpson Group, which has four retail outlets in Solihull.
Dennis Phillips, from The Timpson Foundation, told delegates how its business is thriving thanks to its work within prisons to prepare offenders for a new life in the retail sector on release.
“Ten per cent of its workforce has previous convictions, 75 per cent have stayed with the company after 12 months and 10 are now branch managers,” he said.
“Our recruitment process is very simple: we don’t do reference checks. Instead, we have one-to-one talks with the individual about their conviction and get a full understanding of their situation, which leads to recruiting some fantastic colleagues into the business.
“It’s a huge commitment to give people, who have such barriers from employment, opportunities and make it work but you can make it work, especially with the support of EFFRR.”
Liz Campton-Sturridge, of Chrysalis Partnerships, a non-profit recruitment company that helps to place former offenders into work, said providing relevant training for people who are about to leave prison or who have left prison was a vital part of plugging the skills gap.
“Lack of housing and lack of employment are the two main reasons why people re-offend,” she said. “By breaking that cycle, you can help to reduce the number of offenders who return to prison.
“Give them the opportunity and they will not let you down – they have a great work ethic and are grafters.”
Former offender Mat Wakeley who turned his back on crime and has gained steady employment over the past 12 months in traffic management through Chrysalis Partnerships, told those attending: “Offenders genuinely appreciate employers giving them another chance. “If you really want to turn your life around, you’ll put even more effort in than normal, be reliable and work twice as hard because you don’t want to let anyone down, particularly your own family.”
It was reported this week that Wales striker Evans had been offered a two-year contract by Sheffield United worth more than £500,000.
He was released from prison last week after serving half of his five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel and is at the centre of a nationwide debate as to whether he should return to his former club to resume his career.