New research shines light on employer attitudes to employing people with convictions

New research shines light on employer attitudes to employing people with convictions

Saoirse Brady

The overwhelming majority of Irish employers say they would consider hiring someone with a history of convictions, but significant barriers remain to making this a reality, new research by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) suggests.

The NGO today published a new report titled “The Secondary Punishment”: A Scoping Study on Employer Attitudes to Hiring People with Criminal Convictions, which shines a light on employer attitudes toward hiring people with convictions.

The report also examines whether people with convictions face discrimination in accessing decent and sufficient work and the impact this can have on being able to live fulfilled lives.

This is the first time dedicated research on employer attitudes to people with convictions has been published in Ireland.

Dr Joe Garrihy and Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche of Maynooth University carried out a scoping study in 2023 comprising a survey with 55 participants, 23 interviews and a participatory symposium to inform the research.

They found that 97 per cent of employers agreed that employment plays a key role in helping to reintegrate people with convictions into society.

However, 95 per cent of people with lived experience of convictions and 92 per cent of employers agreed that there are barriers to employment (and/or higher education) for people with convictions in Ireland.

IPRT executive director Saoirse Brady said: “There’s an assumption that when someone leaves prison or finishes their community service, the punishment is over. But we know people continue to face ‘secondary punishment’ as their conviction will follow them for years — even decades — and intrude on many aspects of their lives.

“We know these individuals have skills, experience and qualities that would benefit workplaces, but we also know from our work they are all too often overlooked, despite making up a substantial part of the potential workforce.

“Employment enables people to give back – to their family, community, and the economy – and helps to make society a safer place. Employers are eager, with the right information, support and resources, to support this important journey for people with convictions and tap into this under-used pool of talent.

“Understanding employers’ perspectives will help us and others to work alongside them to dismantle the barriers, both real and perceived, that can stand in the way of recruiting people with convictions.

“This research reminds us of the changes we must continue to make as a society to ensure that, once a person has served their sentence, they don’t go on to face a lifetime of discrimination.”

Dr Garrihy said: “The case for fair hiring practices is clear. The benefits far outweigh the risks, perceived or otherwise, and this is borne out in exponentially growing international scholarship and case studies.” 

Dr Bracken-Roche added: “In many countries, this type of vetting by employers is counter to privacy law. In Ireland, employers currently lack evidence-based approaches and guidance to help them develop and implement inclusive and fair policies and practices for people with convictions.”

IPRT has called on the government to take legislative action to promote inclusivity and anti-discrimination for people with convictions.

Ms Brady said: “We have clear opportunities to make this happen within the lifetime of the current government. The current ongoing review of the Employment Equality and Equal Status Acts should recommend the inclusion of an additional ground of discrimination based on criminal conviction as well as a ground based on socio-economic status.

“Furthermore, the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 should be enacted as a matter of priority given that it has cross-party support and would deliver on a key Programme for Government commitment to expand the range of convictions that can be considered ‘spent’.

“This means a person would no longer have to disclose these to a potential employer when they have worked so hard to overcome challenges in their lives. Effective spent convictions laws have a key role in removing barriers to reintegration for people who have shown that they have moved on from offending.”

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