Social Enterprises: Good for ex-offenders, great for society

People released from prison may be less likely to re-offend if they have skills and can gain work upon discharge – and social enterprises are ideal employers for former inmates.

The UK prison population currently stands at around 85,000, with large numbers of prisoners being discharged upon finishing their sentence: 20,000 were released between April and June 2012. Once back in society, approximately 60% of people released from prison will commit further offences. How can this problem be addressed?

The Prison Service itself can make a valuable contribution to reducing re-offending rates by unlocking the potential of inmates through focusing on education and training, but this cannot be the only factor. A holistic approach is needed, in which public services, charities and social enterprises work together to break the cycle by providing support to ex-offenders when they have served their sentence.

Recycling Lives knows from experience the value of providing paid employment and training to people who have served time in prison. Many of the individuals it supports through its social welfare charity are ex-offenders, and all have experienced homelessness and unemployment. The causes of their situations are often complex, involving poverty, troubled childhood and adolescence, and drug and alcohol problems.

Recycling Lives works with individuals to provide them not only with training and work opportunities with its social business, but also accommodation and a range of essential life skills to help them get on their path to independence. Learning how to recycle metal and drive a fork-lift truck are addressed alongside basics such as literacy and numeracy, which are so vital in everyday life, and food budgeting and preparation, important considerations when food prices are rising.

With the services they provide, social enterprises such as Recycling Lives are greatly beneficial to ex-offenders. For a start, a social enterprise may be willing to employ people with a prison record, something which many employers shy away from – indeed, some social enterprises work exclusively with ex-offenders. Whatever the nature of the social enterprise and its target groups, it gives individuals the security of knowing that they have a proper job and encourages them to take personal responsibility. Ex-prisoners may feel pride in being able to contribute to society, and those former inmates who have families are pleased to be able to support their children. Throughout their working life with Recycling Lives, individuals receive mentoring to ensure that problems are dealt with so that once they are on track, they stay on track.

Recycling Lives’ commitment doesn’t end there. Our work is underpinned by Corporate Social Responsibility, so we are dedicated to innovation, serving the community and sustaining charity through waste and metal recycling via our Community Dotcom schemes. We also have a strong professional interest in collaborating with other agencies to increase social value. One example of this is a recent trial that we have conducted with Kirkham Prison, where inmates have been working to recycle CRT – discarded televisions and computer monitors – which has given them a taste of the working world as well as marketable skills. We are confident that our work with both prisoners and ex-prisoners will help to reduce re-offending rates and contribute to a better society.