Irish Penal Reform Trust

"The Secondary Punishment": Employers and people with convictions reveal barriers to employment

8th February 2024

Almost nine in ten (88.9%) Irish employers who took part in research commissioned by Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) agreed they would consider hiring someone with a history of convictions. However, barriers remain for employers and potential employees with previous convictions according to the IPRT at the report launch today (08 February 2024).

The research, entitled The Secondary Punishment”: A Scoping Study on Employer Attitudes to Hiring People with Criminal Convictions, shines a light on employer attitudes toward hiring people with convictions. It 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. In 2023, Dr Joe Garrihy and Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche of Maynooth University carried out a scoping study comprising a survey with 55 participants, 23 interviews and a participatory symposium to inform the research. They found that 97% of employers agreed that employment plays a key role in helping to reintegrate people with convictions into society. However, 95% of people with lived experience of convictions and 92% of employers agreed that there are barriers to employment (and/or higher education) for people with convictions in Ireland. 

Reflecting on the research, 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.” 

Speaking at the launch of the research, report co-authors Dr Joe Garrihy and Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche: 

"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 Joe Garrihy) 

"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." (Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche) 

IPRT Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, went on to say: 

“The Government should progress legislative reform that promotes inclusivity and anti-discrimination for people with convictions. 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.” 

The launch event for the research also featured speakers including employers, employer representatives, people with convictions, IHREC, and the Department of Justice, and was supported IHREC’s Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme 2022-23 and the Open Doors Initiative.   

ENDS 

For all media enquiries, contact IPRT Communications Officer, Michelle Byrne: 086 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie. 

NOTES FOR EDITOR:  

Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy. 

www.iprt.ie | @iprt 

Authors 

The report co-authors are Dr Joe Garrihy and Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche (both School of Law and Criminology, Maynooth University). A peer research assistant with lived experience in post-conviction employment and the associated barriers was employed to assist with data analysis. 

Speakers at the event: 

Dr Anne Cassidy (Team Leader, Galway Rural Development); Damien Quinn (Founder of Spéire Nua); Kara McGann (Head of Skills and Social Policy, IBEC); Kenneth Keating (Assistant Principal, Penal and Policing Policy, Department of Justice); and Deirdre Malone (Director, IHREC

Key findings of the report 

  • Perceptions of risk without an evidence base underpinned employer concerns about hiring people with convictions (PWCs) including but not limited to safeguarding, reputational damage, reoffending, personality, qualifications, job performance and lack of support. 
  • Half of the survey participants did not have specific policies or practices that require disclosure of criminal convictions but Garda Vetting and GDPR requirements are not clearly understood by all employer participants or PWCs. 
  • Persistent barriers to employment for PWCs include stigma, lack of transparency in hiring processes, demands on resilience, motivation and desistance, and narrowing job opportunities. 
  • Opportunities for progress emerged, with employers broadly willing to hire PWCs, but seeking guidance, information, and support in order to do so. 
  • The imperative of shifting mindsets from moral censure to inclusive policies and practices was highlighted, with the need for clear communication and messaging. 

Recommendations (p8 of the report) 

Arising from the research is a series of 10 key recommendations, which fall into three distinct areas: 

  1. CREATING A POSITIVE CLIMATE FOR THE RECRUITMENT OF PWCS; 
  2. ENCOURAGING AND SUPPORTING EMPLOYERS TO RECRUIT PWCS; AND 
  3. SUPPORTING PWCS WITH ACCESS TO MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT. 

Some of these recommendations include: 

  • The Government should progress legislative reform that promotes inclusivity and anti-discrimination for PWCs.  
  • Budget 2025 should provide ring-fenced funding for the establishment of a dedicated support service relating to the recruitment of people with convictions that is accessible to employers and PWCs alike. 
  • A ‘disclosures calculator’ should be developed, to provide bespoke information on PWC disclosure obligations. 
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