By Stuart Mitchell, National Prison and Community Justice Manager for Sue Ryder

THE recent launch of Release Scotland, a new partnership between business, the third sector and the Scottish Government is a welcome reminder of the positive steps we can take in society to unlock the potential of people with criminal convictions.

At Sue Ryder, whilst we’re best known for our hospice and neurological care for people facing a life-changing diagnosis, we also recognise the value of supporting people in other ways, such as via our award-winning Prison Volunteer Programme (PVP).

Since 2006 the PVP has been supporting the rehabilitation of serving offenders by offering volunteering placements in our shops and central offices. We work with offenders from more than 30 open and closed UK prisons, all of whom are reaching the end of their custodial sentence and are being released on temporary licence and have been identified as suitable for the programme. The aim is to support those individuals in the process of rehabilitation and resettlement as they carry on their journey to get their lives back on track.

With three-quarters of companies across the UK not even willing to consider recruiting anyone with a criminal record, it’s time to look again at the clear social and economic benefits that come with supporting people to move on with their lives and put their past mistakes behind them.

Our PVP programme is instrumental in giving people the confidence to move forwards by helping them develop the experience, communication skills and references needed to secure a job after their release. With 94 per cent of all our prison volunteers saying they have been offered formal job-specific training opportunities and the programme having been praised by the prisons we work with, we hope that the success of our scheme and initiatives such as Release Scotland mean we can take a fresh look at the role that those with criminal convictions can play in society.

Businesses across Scotland are increasingly recognising that there are few better motivated employees than those who have been given a second chance to build a useful career. With our volunteering placements we offer a sense of usefulness, a sense of belonging and purpose. We also offer a chance to interact with those from all social backgrounds who are well placed to have positive impacts on their lives rather than negative ones. That goes hand in hand with chances to improve soft skills like communication, teambuilding and problem solving. And if they show a positive attitude then they have the opportunity to go into employment with us or many of our external partners including some of the largest UK businesses.

If someone has volunteered with us previously we know their back story but also what action they’ve taken to get themselves back on track. If we don’t have a paid position available we can refer them on to many of our Release Scotland partners who are open to recruiting those with convictions. Why would you not then hire someone who has overcome huge disadvantage, proven themselves on day release from prison for six months, worked hard and interacted well with their colleagues and is more than likely to reward you for their second chance with loyalty and commitment?

It’s time to change society’s attitudes, views and preconceptions and with programmes such as Release Scotland and PVP it’s clear that the individual wins, the organisation wins but most importantly society wins.