Jacob Hill – a Yorkshire entrepreneur and founder of ex-offender employment specialist Offploy – has urged MPs to be more aware of the need to work with people who have convictions.
He travelled to Westminster last week to meet Justice Secretary David Gauke and his peers, as well as a number of employers including Greggs, DHL and Sodexo. And his speech acted as a rallying cry for the Government and business community to do more to find jobs for those who have served time.
The rehabilitation plea is one that is close to Jacob’s heart, following his own integration back into society after serving a nine-and-a-half-month sentence.
He spoke openly to his Portcullis House audience about his career, which notably began with him establishing a festival camping brand that attracted £300,000 of investment as well as support from Sir Richard Branson. But as his business spiralled, so too did the debts he became unable to repay.
Jacob shared how he made the regretful mistake of selling drugs, which led not only to his criminal conviction but also the birth of Offploy. And it was whilst serving time in prison that he met – and has since started to represent – others who need to overcome the sense of hopelessness they feel when rebuilding their life upon release.
“I hope it wasn’t just my personal journey that struck a chord with MPs,” explains Jacob. “I talked about one young man we have helped for example – someone who came to Offploy after 10 years inside. A fight over a girl turned into murder, and he was fearful that he would never get a second chance. But he developed many new skills in prison, which meant we could place him with a local construction company keen to fill their talent gap.
“Admittedly it hasn’t been plain sailing, and the employer deserves praise for the open-minded attitude of their entire workforce. However, with peer mentoring and employer support, this ex-offender is approaching his 16th month in the same role.”
In the two years since Jacob’s release from prison, Offploy has grown from a one-man-mission to a nine strong team that has placed 60 people with convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable work. But more needs to be done, he insisted during his Westminster visit. And the answer could lie in the voluntary sector.
“We know that employment – coupled with flexible wrap-around support for the individual and organisation – is one of the biggest factors in the reduction of reoffending,” he elaborates. “Changing societal stigma surrounding this topic represents a mammoth task, but the recent Ministry of Justice policy direction emphasising training and employment through the CJS, is a sign that phenomenal progress is underfoot.
“As a social enterprise, we’ve established a commercially-viable business model that I know we can sustain. However, we want our voluntary sector to be encouraged to bid for employment contracts and develop partnerships that will get more ex-offenders back into the world of work. The whole community benefits from their rehabilitation, in both the immediate and long term.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “I have been clear that I want prisons to be places that propel offenders into employment, ultimately reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
“As stories like Jacob’s show, securing work can turn ex-offenders lives around and make a positive contribution to the workforce, society and the economy.”
This speech comes at a time when Offploy is within the final 12 months of its social mission to place 250 people with criminal convictions into employment. In addition, the company is undergoing expansion and has just launched projects in Hull to double the team size and support over 200 other people into employment.
Commenting on last week’s event, Jacob said: “Offploy has already made contacts with businesses present on the day, that have agreed to hire people with convictions for their organisations – it was a great success.”