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Employment embargo – Why does the prison think employers are ‘unsuitable’ and refuse to let me work?

Having worked his way through the prison system, Mo is struggling to understand why the prison service continues to refuse him permission to work for certain employers without explaining their reasons why. 


During the time I’ve spent in prison, I’ve had a variety of ‘jobs’ – sorting rubbish, working in the print shop, even packing headphones. The worst part of being in prison is the boredom so being out of your cell and working helps to break up the day.

As I went through the prison system I believed that a move to an open prison would enable me to start doing ‘normal’ things – going home every now and again to see my family and get a job. Having served a long sentence it was important to me that I was able to start reintegrating into society whilst still being ‘protected’ by the prison.

As soon as I moved to open conditions, the prison were really on the ball, sorting out my home leave within a couple of months and setting out opportunities for work. Having been told that I needed to do a certain amount of voluntary work before I was able to apply for paid work, I asked the officer in charge of that department to put my name forward for anything and I was soon volunteering at a local charity shop.

I can’t tell you how amazing it made me feel. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning and really boosted my confidence and self-esteem. My work colleagues were great and had no problem with the fact that I was in prison – a couple of the ‘girls’ (they’re both in their late 70’s) even brought me home made lunches as they were worried that I wasn’t eating properly.

Life was great and I had no reason to believe that the next step into paid work wouldn’t be just as easy. Sadly this was not the case. If you don’t know the system for getting paid work whilst in prison then put simply, once you’ve been offered a job, the prison have to carry out checks to ensure that you’re suitable to be released daily to go to a paid job and that the company you’ll be working for are reputable and suitable. If all’s good, then the prison provide you with a licence which allows you to leave the prison on a temporary basis to go to work.

To date, I’ve been offered three jobs, all working as a junior mechanic in the car trade. Although the prison are happy for me to do this kind of work, every one of the employers has been turned down by the prison as ‘not suitable’. The prison won’t tell me why and more worryingly, they won’t tell the employers either. Without knowing the reasons behind their decision, I’m unable to address any concerns the prison has. The employers just seem to assume that I haven’t been honest with them and believe they’ve had a lucky escape.

Please don’t think I’m the only one that this is happening to – I’m not. Not a day goes by without somebody on my wing moaning about the loss of a job because an employer has been rejected and I find it hard to believe that there’s something wrong with all of them. It’s hard enough finding work with a criminal record and I know that one of the company’s that offered me a job only did so on the basis that they had the security of going back to the prison if I caused them any problems. I wasn’t worried about this as I knew that I’d be able to prove myself to them in the time I had left in prison.

I don’t have a date for release yet but it’s probably at least 18 months away. Going out to work during the time I’ve got left will enable me to save money so I can pay back the friends and family who’ve helped me whilst I’ve been inside. Knowing that on the day I leave prison I’ll have a job to go to is one less thing for me to worry about as I learn to live as a free man again.

I continue to volunteer at the charity shop and try to stay motivated but some days are harder than others. On the days when I’m feeling down and fed up one of my ‘girls’ will bring me a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive – I suppose I’d miss that if I was working in a garage!

By Mo (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help on leaving prison
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to working out whilst in prison on our online forum.

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