More organisations are employing ex-offenders than ever before. Here's how your human resource department can do it.

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Many organisations struggle to fill vacancies due to skill shortages. Ex-offenders and prisoners have many skills and qualifications that can provide huge benefits to organisations. Prisoners often learn many real life skills during their sentence, and are keen to utilise these skills once their sentence is over.

Background checks and screening applicants are an essential part of every human resource’s recruitment process. After a pre-employment check is conducted and a criminal record is discovered, it is important to have a HR process in place for those previous offenders in order to vet them appropriately.


  • Criminal record checks
  • When should you conduct a criminal record check?
  • Early Background Checks
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Considering an ex-offender for employment risk assessment
  • How to conduct a the risk assessment
  • Employing ex-offenders and performance management


Criminal record checks

Background checks and screening can reveal that an applicant is an ex-offender. In this instance, it’s usually necessary to conduct a criminal check in order to assess the risk to your organisation and workforce.

Employers can gain the information they may require in one of two ways. It is important to note that an applicant who is an ex-offender does not have to disclose information regarding their criminal record or any convictions if the employer has not formally asked them to. Disclosure can come willingly from the applicant themselves, but there is no requirement to disclose any information. It is the employer’s job to ask for any relevant information regarding previous convictions during recruitment.

There is a line that employer’s must toe when it comes to criminal records checks, however. Employers should only conduct criminal record checks if necessary. A criminal record check is a secondary check following a pre-employment check, if it has shown that the applicant has a criminal record.


When should you conduct a criminal record check?

In the employment practices code, it states that employer should ‘only carry out pre-employment checks on an applicant at as late a stage as is practicable in the recruitment process’. This is to ensure that applicants from former offenders are given as fair a chance as other candidates, to reduce the risk of bias in the recruitment and hiring process.

It is important for human resource departments to decide at what point you should be conducting a background check during recruitment. If done too early on, you may end up with a lot of sensitive data about candidates that didn’t make past the first round of the hiring process.

Instead, conduct background checks and verify them after a conditional offer has been made. Screening a candidate this way will allow recruiters to focus fairly on experience, skills and qualifications of this person.


Early Background Checks

Depending on the job, it may be a necessity that you perform and background check before offering any form of employment. When a job involves working with children or vulnerable adults, an organisation may want to perform a screening at the start of the hiring process.

There is an exception made for ex-offenders who have a conviction that has led to them being barred from regulated activity with children or vulnerable adults. As an employer, you must not legally recruit the individual and are allowed to refuse them employment.


Think outside of the box

As human resources, our job is to ensure that all employees are treated equally. This is the same for applicants throughout the recruitment and hiring process. More and more HR managers are starting to align with the international campaign ban the box, that has set out to remove criminal record disclosure tick boxes for job applications.

This is is an effort to reduce discrimination and bias that ex-offenders often fall victim to. This is considered best practise by many organisations now, as it provides an even playing field for all applicants. Employment is essential for people who have just been released from prison and have previous convictions, as it prevents them from re-offending.


Considering an ex-offender for employment

If a pre-employment check is undertaken and it is discovered that the candidate has a criminal background, it is a requirement that a risk assessment then be carried out. This assessment should consider how relevant their conviction is to the applied post.

This risk assessment should involve an employer assessing the potential employee’s relevant skills, experience and qualifications alongside the specific job they have applied for. This conversation is important, because there are many factors that must be considered.

Nacro, a charity that strives to help ex-offenders find work, outlines some things human resource departments should take into consideration if you are going to employ an ex-offender. These include:

  • Nature of the offence
  • The relevance of the conviction
  • Seriousness
  • Outside circumstances
  • Age of offences
  • Pattern of offending
  • Changed circumstance


Conducting a background check to identify the nature of the offences and their relevance in relation to the position is very important. There are a wide range of potential implications depending on what the candidate went to prison for, and what job they are applying for. For example, if the candidate was in prison for theft and the role has unsupervised access to expensive goods, this may require different action than if the candidate went to prison for drug-use.

Verification on the severity of the offence is also very important. An assault charge can be vague, and can be a wide spectrum of different offences so it is important to verify this as it may change the circumstances of employment. For instance, it would be inappropriate to hire an ex-offender with a record for GBH (Gross Bodily Harm) for a security position.

Alongside this, consider other circumstances such as why it happened, the applicants situation at the time such as drug-use, employment, housing circumstances, and whether they take responsibility for the offences.

After verification of the offences, it is important to learn when this happened. Clarify the age of offences. The individual may have served a prison sentence when they were much younger, and therefore may not be fair to withdraw the job offer from the candidate. Next, find out if the candidate has multiple convictions, or if they have only served one prison sentence. Learning the time between prison sentences is also important.

Finally, a change in circumstance is important to take into consideration after screening the candidate. They may be in a very different place now compared to when the offences were committed, as they may have been much younger.


How to conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment is a necessary HR process that must be clearly outlined and detailed. Ensure that you have all relevant information regarding the candidate’s convictions that you can gather.

Conduct a face-to-face interview with the candidate, and allow the previous offender to explain and provide verification on any offences. Any further information that is required can be asked during this interview.


Onboarding ex-offenders

HR software can also facilitate effective onboarding for ex-offenders to ensure that they follow consistent training processes with the rest of the workforce and are welcomed into the workplace.

It can be a cause for anxiety for many ex-offenders on how they are received in the workplace. Welcoming your new hire with a comprehensive onboarding plan, which is supported by your software system can make the difference.


Employing ex-offenders and performance management

Ex-offenders place high value on finding employment and not re-offending. It is important that employers recognise this, as it can result in the higher retention of employees and increased loyalty as you have given them a chance.

Track employee performance using our HR software with performance management. After the employee has been risk-assessed, it may be necessary to track how the employee performs, particularly in the first year, to ensure that they are integrating appropriately.

By integrating effective performance management, you can also help your new employee to learn and grow with regular check-ins and performance reviews, providing guidance when necessary.


To discover how HR software help your HR processes for all employees, book a demo today.