Retail and logistics firms join drive to fill vacancies with prison leavers

Hundreds of prisoners are being encouraged to take jobs in the retail and logistics sector on release to plug skills gaps in entry level roles, helping reduce reoffending while supporting businesses.

Unlocking Retail and Logistics’ events were held in over 30 prisons across England and Wales with the aim of helping British businesses fill some of the estimated 1 million vacancies in the UK by employing qualified prison leavers.

Events were run by businesses including supermarket giants The Cooperative and Iceland plus well-known retailers and logistic companies such as Oliver Bonas, Greggs, and DHL.

The campaign is part of a wider drive from the government to get more prison leavers into work as evidence shows it grows the economy and cuts crime.

Ex-offenders in full time employment are up to nine percentage points less likely to reoffend when released and more than 90% of surveyed businesses who employ prison leavers report they are motivated, have good attendance and are trustworthy.

Not only does this grow the economy but by keeping prison leavers on the straight and narrow it also helps tackle the £18 billion annual cost of reoffending and cut crime.

Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said: “There is a golden opportunity right now for companies working to fill vacancies by taking on prison leavers. Not only does it help grow the economy but it is proven to cut crime.”

“Over 90% of businesses employing prison leavers report they are motivated and trustworthy – making them prime candidates to plug some of the current skills gaps in the UK.”

One of the businesses involved in the campaign was O’Neill & Brennan, a recruitment and logistics solutions business to the construction industry. They have helped around 180 prison leavers into employment with their scheme in the last 2 years and currently employ over 60 prisoners released on temporary licence to work on-location each day.

Barry Mitchell, Logistics Operations Director at O’Neill & Brennan, said: “There is a lack of skill and talent in the industry currently and we are finding that there is a huge gap in the retail and logistics sector, particularly in entry level roles. By working directly with prisons, we are engaging with new and exciting talent early, so that when they reach us we are employing skilled and job ready people who have already been trained in custody.”

“The attitude and hard work prison leavers put into their job, and their desire to change their past and prove themselves, means that they are dedicated and motivated employees.”

One of O’Neill & Brennan’s success stories is John, who has been employed by the recruitment and logistics solutions business following his release and has worked his way up to a supervisor, taking the role of Logistics Manager when needed.

John said: “Having employment secured ahead of my release really grew my self-confidence and gave me hope that I would be given a second chance to prove myself.

“I am a real-life example of how you can turn your life around if given the right opportunities, and it feels rewarding to encourage others to explore a similar route.”

This is the fourth of 5 campaigns being run by the Prison Service’s New Futures Network, following on from activities focused on helping ex-offenders secure employment in the hospitality and construction sectors. Together these campaigns form “Unlocking Potential”, a wider campaign run by New Futures Network to create a culture of employment in prisons following the publication of the 2021 Prisons Strategy White Paper.

Recent statistics show that the proportion of prison leavers finding work within 6 months of release more than doubled between April 2021 and March 2023, from 14% to over 30%.

This stark rise is supported by a range of initiatives being delivered in prisons to ensure individuals are job-ready before their release. For example, the Ministry of Justice has introduced dedicated Employment Advisory Boards in 92 prisons, which link prisons to leading businesses so they can receive advice on their employment strategies.


Wilson Browne