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Challenges faced recruiting staff in the criminal justice sector

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already very well aware that finding work if you have a criminal conviction is quite a challenge. In the same way, if you’re an employer willing to give someone with an offending past the chance to turn their life around, you will, again, know that the recruitment process needs to be carefully thought through and sensitively managed.

However, this post is about the rather different matter of recruiting people to work in the criminal justice system. Surprisingly, in 2018, this is almost as difficult and Offploy has found that many of the difficulties and challenges of helping people with criminal convictions find work also apply to the recruitment of staff to work in prisons and probation.

Why is it so difficult to find good people to work in prisons and probation?

Although prisons and probation are very different work settings, the challenges of recruiting good quality staff can be similar.

First and foremost, you only have to have the slightest interest in criminal justice to be well aware that our prison and probation systems have been in a state of crisis for the last few years.

As in many other areas of public life, austerity has had a huge impact. The Ministry of Justice cut so many prison officer jobs that our prisons have spiralled out of control. Every week prison inspectors paint a picture of jails overrun with drugs and where violence has spiralled to unprecedented levels. The basics of providing a clean and hygienic environment – for both prisoners and the staff who care for them – are often not delivered.

Belatedly the MoJ acknowledged its mistake and made a substantial investment in recruiting new staff. The Ministry was successful and managed to recruit almost 3000 new staff between October 2016 and March 2018. However, this recruitment campaign did not solve the staffing problem as more experienced officers, frustrated by years of understaffing and having to work in an increasingly dangerous environment, left the prison service in their droves. Official statistics from earlier this year revealed that experienced prison officers are resigning from the service at the rate of almost one in ten every year.

There’s a similar picture in the probation service. Since the probation service was partially privatised in 2015 (split into the still public National Probation Service which staffs the courts and works with high-risk offenders and 21 new private Community Rehabilitation Companies who work with low and medium risk offenders), there have been very significant staffing cuts. At the end of November, Private Eye audited the private probation providers’ annual reports and calculated that there were 30% fewer probation staff than when they had taken over the business three years earlier. This amounts to 2,714 fewer probation officers.

So the first challenge in recruiting for the criminal justice sector is overcoming people’s apprehension at joining a failing prison or probation service which appear to be mired in crisis.

The second challenge is that jobs in the justice sector command substantially lower levels of pay than elsewhere. Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service is currently in the process of awarding new prison education contracts and there will be a need to recruit many more teachers to work in prison in the New Year. However, pay scales in the prison sector are often below what qualified teachers could earn at a local school, even though they are being required to work in a much more challenging environment.

There are also more mundane problems. Understandably, and quite rightly, people looking for work in prisons or probation have to be vetted to make sure they do not present an unreasonable level of risk. The prison service requires people who pass their recruitment procedures to enter their personal details on its online vetting system and then visit a local prison to have this confirmed by a security officer all before a formal job offer can be made.

All these factors have left companies wanting to recruit good quality staff to work in the justice sector with a serious headache. They have plenty of vacancies which they need to fill promptly in order to deliver a proper service and turnaround are failing prisons and probation systems, but are struggling to do so.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of people with the commitment and interest to work in the justice sector for a variety of reasons – to rise to the challenge, to do good or simply to have an interesting and varied work life.

Offploy Justice Personnel

And that’s why Offploy has created a sister company – Offploy Justice Personnel, specifically to recruit good quality staff to work in the justice sector.

We apply several of the same principles that we use in our work to help employers safely recruit people with convictions to their organisations. Because many of our staff have a personal and detailed understanding of the prison and probation system, we can match candidates to the right types of jobs in the right sort of organisation. It’s true that the private Community Rehabilitation Companies have received a bad press. However, many are starting to turn their businesses around and CRCs like Thames Valley have recently reinvested in good quality probation officer training, reinstating the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP). We can advise on career prospects so that employers are doing more than filling a vacancy but are recruiting people with ambition.

Offploy Justice Personnel provides the same level of one-to-one support to people wanting to work in the justice sector as Offploy does to those wanting to work in any other sector. We also believe that many justice organisations could put their money where their mouth is and recruit people with criminal convictions.

Offploy Justice Personnel was only formed in January 2017 and has since supplied talented and engaged colleagues at all levels to the four main education providers, several of the private probation services and is now looking at ways to supply the MoJ directly via their Contingent Labour Framework.

Although Offploy Justice Personnel does not always supply people with convictions to its clients, all of the profits are reinvested into Offploy Community Interest Company to help support our main mission to reduce reoffending and make society safer by supporting people with criminal convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable employment.



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