People can change their stripes, if we are willing to give them the opportunity. Everyone deserves a second chance in all walks of life.
I visited Port Phillip Prison’s Youth Unit in Victoria, Australia 11 years ago and have been passionate about supporting ex-offenders ever since. To see smart, talented people languishing behind bars is saddening. But to see them snubbed and shunned when they leave prison is shameful. We need to support people to become productive members of society and stop the terrible cycle of recidivism, providing work opportunities and support to reengage with wider society.
I’ve written before how Virgin businesses in the UK, including Virgin Trains West Coast and Virgin Active have recruited dozens of people directly from prison, and re-offending is no longer an issue. Everyone agrees that employment makes all the difference. Beyond employment, we are now looking at other ways in which we can take our support into the prison system. Virgin Trains has just launched the first in-prison employability training programme aimed at building the workplace skills prisoners need to make them job-ready on the day of release. Virgin Start-up has partnered with the largest in-prison education provider to take entrepreneurship training behind prison walls.
More and more businesses are beginning to realise the untapped potential of hiring people who have spent time behind bars. Our own experience at Virgin shows that people with prior convictions are among the most motivated and loyal employees you can find anywhere.
Back in Australia, Igniting Change, which was founded by my friend Jane Tewson is doing remarkable work in this area. It is included as one of the focuses in their new book, Small ways to shape our world. Hopefully these simple messages can help us all to think of everyday ways to make the world a better place.
Watch Roger’s story, as just one example of somebody who was given the support he needed to turn himself into a community leader and a wonderful example of how people can change their stripes.
Offering people a second chance by giving them the dignity of a decent job is our best hope to reduce reoffending rates effectively. By creating opportunities to give ex-offenders better chances through employment, we can make a real difference to society at large.