The new governor of Leeds Prison is calling on employers to give inmates a chance to work their way out of a life of crime.
Susan Kennedy, who took charge of the Armley jail in October, said employment opportunities were vital to offenders’ chances of staying on the right side of the law once they finished their sentences.
In an exclusive first interview since she became governor, Ms Kennedy said: “Employers needn’t be scared of employing ex-offenders.
“They are coming back into our communities whether we like it or not. I would rather they were in gainful employment and were learning how to become responsible citizens than were being written off.”
Ms Kennedy, 52, was born and brought up in the Leeds area and went to Batley Girls Grammar School.
She worked in the probation service for 10 years and was a governor of Buckley Hall prison in Rochdale and deputy governor at Styal women’s prison in Cheshire before taking the job in Leeds.
The category B prison holds up to 1,212 offenders at any one time.
“There are some people who cannot be rehabilitated and should stay in custody,” Ms Kennedy said.
“But we can work with the vast majority and when they’re in custody it’s a real opportunity, because they have nothing else to do. Why wouldn’t we want to use that time to teach them employability skills?”
Ms Kennedy plans to set up what she calls a “resettlement village” at the prison, which will see charities, employers and other organisations being invited to help inmates prepare for their release.
“One thing we know is that having a stable job reduces people’s chances of getting back into crime,” she said,
“We are increasingly working with employers to take on offenders. With some people there’s an obvious hesitation, but we have to say to them that, statistically, they are probably employing lots of ex-offenders anyway. About one in four people have some form of criminal conviction.
“The benefit is that, if they take on someone from here, they know what they are getting, which you probably won’t know when you recruit someone off the street. Some of them might need a bit of patience, but if you work with them it can be a rewarding process for everyone.”
Julie Thornton, employment services development manager for West Yorkshire Probation, said: “Employment can reduce the rate of reoffending by up to 50 per cent and is one of the most important factors in changing people’s lives. Any initiative that helps employers realise the benefits of working with offenders and ex-offenders is a good thing.
“Through the Step Change initiative, we have helped 456 offenders get a job and helped more than 500 people go on to further learning qualifications. Ex-offenders can make some of the best and most loyal employees and it is important that more employers recognise the opportunity and are supported to be able to offer offenders work placements and jobs.”