Steve Freer and Val Wawrosz are two former senior prison officers who run Tempus Novo.
After almost 60 years working in some of the UK’s toughest prisons, as two senior officers, we have seen it all. The inevitable conflict of imposing a disciplined regime amongst some of the country’s most chaotic people, and also the valiant attempts of rehabilitation in conditions more akin to something from a Dickens novel.
So what about after prison; what support was there beyond the gates for prisoners? We set about researching this and discovered that there’s actually some good support around education, training, accommodation, addiction etc, but very little in relation to securing a proper job. All this despite the fact it is a job that reduces the chances of someone returning to crime by up to 50 per cent, the biggest single influence – closely followed by having somewhere decent to live, and family support.
Having a job is so much more than a pay cheque. It gives the person a sense of pride, purpose, security and the stability that we all need to live a “normal life” in mainstream society. It provides the means to support the family and to be a good role model to your children.
So why no serious focus on finding employment for offenders ?
Having a conviction is an enormous barrier to work, and then add to that the stigma around crime and prisons, it makes it virtually impossible to get a job!
Enter Tempus Novo (TN), a charity we set up in 2014, which has so far secured sustainable employment for 600 ex-offenders – with only 28 returning to prison.
We knew from our time on the landings that there were some hardworking people in prison, and that if they could replicate this in society then it would be a win win.
A business model was put together that has safeguarding and business reputation right at its core. We didn’t think that employers would feel comfortable (or safe) giving jobs to all types of offender, and so we resolved that issue by making the decision not to work with murderers/terrorists/arsonists and sex offenders.
(That still leaves approximately 60,000 of those people in prison and another 140,000 under probation supervision in the community, needing our support.)
By removing the really high risk offenders we now have something most people can empathise with, as the remainder of our cohort would have come from poverty where they haven’t had a chance, never mind a second chance. These people have been born into a world of crime and poverty, many of them have been in care and very sadly abused.
It is important that although we are keen to place people because of their motivation to work, there is also an element of caring. Most decent human beings are able to empathise with someone brought up under these circumstances.
We are not soft on crime and after several years of working in some of Britain’s toughest jails, it comes as a surprise to many people that we want to help offenders. There are offenders that deserve to be locked up and for a very long time in our opinion, but many are simply victims of a society that has never quite understood or wanted to understand that desperate world they are born into. You don’t get to choose your parents and as Aristotle said “poverty is the parent of crime”.
As a nation we have the belief that everybody that goes to prison, or that commits and is found guilty of a crime, is a bad person. It’s like society says to them “ you may have served your sentence in prison, but we are still going to turn our backs on you, if you want to work ever again”.
Around 40 per cent of repeat offenders have the reading and writing ability of the average 12/13 year old. This again is not their fault, it is because of lack of opportunities living in poverty. If you have been brought up in survival mode, where crime is “the norm” and prison is merely an occupational hazard, it usually takes something special to trigger a different thinking. A mindset where you want to “change” and join mainstream society seems unattainable for most, and so they carry on doing what they’ve always done to put food on the table (a combination of claiming benefits and committing crime )
Then they reach an age where suddenly they do want to change. Or maybe they get married and/or have children or even lose someone close to them while in prison and can’t get to go to the funeral. There is usually a significant event that triggers that different thinking necessary in order to change. As some prisoners have said to us over the years, it was the fact that if they go in front of a judge again, they could be facing double figures (a sentence of 10 years plus).
Then they are looking for a way out and if they can’t secure a decent job, they feel hopeless and inevitably return to their old ways. That was until TN was formed and now these people can seize the opportunity with both hands, and as is often the case become some of the hardest working and loyal employees in the company.
Re-offending costs the UK economy £18.1 billion pa and so it’s not only the social impact of this work that is much needed. With the average cost per prisoner place for a year-long sentence at £41,000, surely any model that can reduce that burden on the taxpayer is a model worth supporting.