Focus: Frontline - Rainer's Prise Project

Graham Willgoss, graham.willgoss@haynet.com

WHAT IT IS: Planned Resettlement Into Sustainable Employment is a two-year project led by Rainer, a national organisation that provides employment, education, housing and health services to disadvantaged young people

WHAT IT DOES: Works with the prison service and local youth offending teams to help them resettle young offenders in employment, and with local councils to help them with the safe and fair recruitment of people with a criminal record

HOW IT'S FUNDED: With a £2.5m grant from the European Social Fund

"Employers need a constant supply of talented workers," says Gemma Buckland, senior policy adviser to Prise. "By using safe and fair recruitment policies, they can access the 20 per cent of the workforce who have a criminal record.

"Local authorities and employers have a huge influence over the factors that reduce re-offending, including employment."

Buckland works with Rainer mentors and youth offending teams to find suitable places of work for young offenders. She also ensures that employers taking part in the Prise project give participants a fair chance in their recruitment process by referring to the project's own guidelines.

The scheme has been so well received that Rainer has created a CD-Rom, Apply Within, which contains a set of best practice guidelines for employers.

It encourages them to consider each applicant on merit without looking at their disclosure form, safe in the knowledge that Prise has carried out a thorough and accurate background check and has identified them as being suitable for employment.

"A lot of employers might automatically think that because you've been in prison you're a bad person," says Kim Davis. She previously spent four years in prison and was referred to Prise through the prison service.

"Not everybody in prison is evil or bad - they've just found themselves in a situation and made a mistake," she says. "But when we do get a job, we're likely to stick to it, because it's not easy to get one in the first place."

Matthew Baldwin is managing director of Anderton Concrete, a concrete manufacturing firm that came to Prise seeking reliable staff. He says: "You have to take each person as an individual. One or two we didn't want back after the first day. But the majority of lads have been very good - they're well disciplined and they get on and do the job.

"If I had a choice from the average school leaver and our average offender, I'd go for the offender every time."

Davis says: "You can be retrained and you can be rehabilitated, but you can't do it all by yourself. You need help and understanding for it to be achievable. If someone is not willing to give you the chance, where does it leave you? You're just going back into the same cycle again. It can only be broken by people taking a chance."

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