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When PhD research generates timely impact

30 July 2020

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Translating research into valuable insights on how to support the reintegration of people with convictions. The last few months have brought a …

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Translating research into valuable insights on how to support the reintegration of people with convictions.

Translating research into valuable insights on how to support the reintegration of people with convictions – when PhD research generates timely impact.

The last few months have brought a significant disruption to labour markets around the world. While many people now feel their job is under threat or are struggling to find employment, those from vulnerable categories such as people with convictions are seeing their opportunities for a new life shrink even more rapidly and worryingly. Jan Lodge, one of Cambridge Judge Business School’s PhD students, is working on this issue through a collaboration with Clean Sheet, a social enterprise helping people with convictions to re-enter the job market. We asked him some insights about his research project.

Jan Lodge, PhD candidate.
Jan Lodge, PhD candidate

Why did you decide to work on the issue of re-integration of people who leave prison?

As a management scholar, I had always been interested in the topics of stigmatisation and marginalisation and how this is experienced in organisations and in work reintegration processes. My focus on people with convictions really came about after having realised that the reintegration back into employment is a major factor in reducing their recidivism. I felt that by focusing on this group I could find a good balance between doing rigorous academic but also important practical work.

Why did you decide to engage with Clean Sheet?

Clean Sheet does an extremely important job. They help people who leave prison find sustained employment, despite the substantial stigma that these individuals face. Having read up on them and having had a range of conversations with other connected stakeholders who spoke highly of them, I knew I wanted to engage with them. In addition, I then discovered that Clean Sheet are one of the few charities that support any kind of people with convictions (including sex offenders) and that they work nationwide – both aspects that many other charities who support the reintegration of people with convictions into work do not do.

What was the project about?

The project I developed with the support of Clean Sheet, focused on understanding the individual level experiences of people with convictions as they moved back into employment but also the organisational practices that employers as well as supporting organisations such as Clean Sheet engage in to make this process (more) successful.

What was the advantage of doing this as a collaborative project?

Clean Sheet helped to connect me to all relevant stakeholders I wanted to talk to for this project. This was essential for a research topic that is as sensitive as this. Their “warm” introductions to people with convictions and employers immediately provided a level of trust that enabled very open and deep conversations. Clean Sheet further helped me to make sense of some of the findings I had through my data collection, by having long conversations with me about their experience and their point of views. Meanwhile, I helped them to shine a light on their work and on the experiences of their beneficiaries through my research skills. My role in this project was to engage in interviews with people with convictions and with the different stakeholders that played a key role in the process I was interested in. It was a fascinating experience to be able to learn about reintegration journeys and one that provided useful insights also to Clean Sheet.

What came out of the project? How can society sustain prisoners as they try to start a new life?

While the project is still ongoing, a number of aspects have emerged that seem important for the successful and sustained integration of people with convictions back into work: first, giving jobs to people with convictions is not enough. In many cases, both employers and the individuals need to be prepared for the reintegration process. Second, for employers to make hiring people with convictions more successful, deliberate internal dissemination and justification of such plan is crucial. At the same time, employers should not ‘trigger’ people with convictions to feel singled out by providing them with too much support. Third, many people-with-convictions that are successful follow a three-steps process to maximise their well-being and chance to rebuild their careers after prison. They get any job after prison; after a while, they get a better job; and finally, they go for a job that becomes their long-term career. Knowing this process is crucial to help people with convictions manage their ambitions and expectations. These findings can be of help for many stakeholders and I have done my best to share them with an audience as wide as possible. I wrote an article for The Conversation that garnered over 25,000 reads within a few days. I am currently in the process of writing an academic paper on the work Clean Sheet does and will be sharing more practitioner-based insights with them and wider audiences after this project has concluded.

Jan’s hope going forward is that employers, and society at large, will see that providing real jobs for people with convictions is both good for business and good for society, and that, in the words of one of his interviewees “it’s not a radical thing to do, as we have over 11 million people with a conviction in the UK.” His aim is that his findings will motivate other employers to see how actively hiring people with convictions can be a real opportunity and help make this a more frequent practice across the UK.

The future is unclear, in most sectors. Providing insights on how to help people currently excluded from the labour market might be key to foster the prospects of many, as current changes threaten to leave many more groups behind at the margins of society.