UK

The prison officers helping ex-prisoners back into work

Steve and Val
Image caption Former prison officers Steve Freer (l) and Val Wawrosz help ex-offenders find work

Two retired prison officers are trying to help the men they used to guard to return to the world of employment.

Steve Freer and Val Wawrosz, who worked together in HM Prison Leeds, have founded a charity called Tempus Novo to find jobs for prisoners who have served their sentences.

They work unpaid in offices opposite the looming Victorian hulk of their old employer.

Val used to run the prison print shop with "the same faces" turning up time after time and would ask why they had come back into prison.

They would explain how they could not get a job, often sending hundreds of applications and getting nowhere, so, as a result, they had turned back to crime.

Image caption After serving nine years in prison, Paul (whose surname we have not used at his request) sought help from Tempus Novo

Paul is one of their success stories.

After serving nearly nine years in prison, he struggled to find employment. His probation officer suggested he talk to the pair and for the last six months he has been employed by Winder Power, a manufacturer in West Yorkshire.

"They brought me here, got me an interview, got me through the door," he said. "They gave me a chance."

Steve acknowledged employers were wary of ex-offenders at the start and has found small and medium-sized businesses easier to engage.

He takes the boss of each company into the prison and shows them the prisoners hard at work, as "human beings".

Steve and Val then pre-interview candidates, ensuring they are prepared to do any job, even sweeping the floors as a start.

Then they ask the company to give them an interview and treat them like any other applicant.

'Staggering savings'

Crucially, they offer support to both employer and employee for 12 months. "We're there all the time for them," said Val, who told me that it can be difficult for ex-offenders, or "graduates" as they call them, to "settle into ordinary employment".

"The slightest thing can send them off track, so we're there at the end of the phone just to pick them back up so they can keep their jobs," he explained.

"The savings are staggering," Val said. "The first 54 guys that we placed into work had between them 838 convictions, which shows you we don't cherry-pick."

Prisoners with multiple convictions are often hardest to place, but so far the overwhelming majority have kept their jobs.

Image caption Val, Paul and Steve (l to r)

Deteriorating conditions in prisons have encouraged some repeat offenders to try much harder to find work, according to Val and Steve. One man told them: "I don't really want to go back to prison. It's changed a lot recently."

Both men say there are not enough staff to deal with problems of violence and legal highs.

However, Justice Secretary Liz Truss hopes to address that by announcing the recruitment of 2,100 extra prison officers in England and Wales, in addition to the 400 recently promised.

She is planning measures to tackle drug smuggling into jails and to target reoffending rates. More than 100,000 crimes are committed annually by former prisoners.

Ms Truss wants to see people improve their education and skills in prisons, so they are more likely to find work. Many ex-offenders find it very difficult to get a job, regardless of their qualifications.

Steve told me that throughout his career prison "was always quite a safe, not overly violent environment. But over the last two, three years, that's changed in many prisons".

Tempus Novo is now working in several prisons. Steve and Val believe their approach could help ex-offenders across the country. "It would be an incredible win for society," said Steve.

"Less crime, less victims, and a huge saving to the taxpayer."

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