Blue Sky for ex-offenders

Posted by editor 18/09/2012 1 Comment 4177 views

Blue Sky offers work and training to people coming out of prison, offering them an opportunity to play a part in society.

When Leroy Skeete got a job on the London Underground with Vital Services, a probation officer told him he “was lucky”. Leroy was incensed – luck had nothing to do with it. “I’ve had to fight to get where I am now. I had no parents who stood by me; I spent most of my early life in care and graduated, if you like, with a crack cocaine habit. I felt quite bitter and twisted about society by then.”

In 2009, Leroy was released from prison; he had been inside for 11 years and served a string of shorter sentences before that. Like the vast majority of the 90,000 ex-offenders who are released from prison each year, Leroy’s first priorities were housing and work. With a criminal record, his chances of finding a job were slim.

“The amount of money spent on educational and offending behaviour courses inside is ridiculous,” he says. “When someone leaves prison, the things he needs are a roof over his head and an income, a job. He needs to feel like he’s part of society again.”

His housing already sponsored, Leroy began looking for work by following up a connection with ex-cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken – who he met by chance while in Belmarsh prison. His initiative paid off as Aitken recommended him to Blue Sky Development and Regeneration, an organisation described by Prime Minister David Cameron as “the only company in the country where you need a criminal record to work there”.

Over six years, Blue Sky has employed nearly 620 ex-offenders on contracts it wins to maintain parks or open spaces and to process waste. Leroy joined Blue Sky last April and his work ethic quickly led to him being promoted to team supervisor.

Leroy was impressed by Blue Sky’s commitment to helping him progress. “Blue Sky funded my Network Rail qualification and helped put me in touch with Vital. Vital pay well! Normally people like me with no education and a criminal record get palmed off permanently with dead-end minimum wage jobs. Those kinds of jobs are not going to stop people committing crimes.”

National statistics on recidivism back up Leroy’s view. Almost two-thirds of those who leave prison will re-offend within two years, but employment is shown to reduce this probability by up to 50 per cent. Only 15 per cent of individuals working with Blue Sky have ever gone on to reoffend.

Blue Sky has a new venture on the horizon, a subsidiary company offering in-prison work to female prisoners. This has been made possible by an investment of £50,000 by Big Issue Invest. Leroy too is working towards his next goal – designing a course to help people turn their lives around and writing a book about his life.

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  1. Pingback Would you hire someone with a criminal record? « foziasaeed

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