Sally Smith, director of people at Sue Ryder, explains how the organisation’s prison volunteer programme (PVP) has turned lives around and how the loss of funding could have disastrous effects.
“I’m 46 years old and this is the first proper job I’ve ever had. It was a daunting experience just being out and, from my first nervous day, I never believed I could do it,” says Steve, an ex-offender. “But my confidence has grown, as has my self-belief and self-worth, and I’m looking forward to the future. Sue Ryder has been fantastic to me. In this final stage of my rehabilitation, they have been the final piece of the jigsaw.”
Sue Ryder provided the opportunity for Steve to have his first paid job, and through that, his first ever home at the age of 46. Having been in the remand system since he was 12, Steve served a total of 30 years, yet he reformed when given a chance. Thanks to our PVP, Steve is now an assistant manager at one of our shops. He has turned his life around.
Our programme transforms lives, and this is why I am ecstatic that it has received recognition by winning the Personnel Today Award for Corporate Social Responsibility. It is vital work, which not only helps prisoners and Sue Ryder, but society as a whole.
Sue Ryder is in fact the UK’s only charity to have a national policy in place to recruit prisoner volunteers. Since 2006, we have placed more than 600 prisoners as volunteers in 70 of our shops and offices. Each year, offenders provide 40,000 volunteering hours, worth an estimated 240,000 in staff costs.
As well as helping carefully risk-assessed prisoners to repay a debt to society, our programme also adds to their chances of securing employment when they are released. Finding a job is the single most important factor in re-offending – it can cut the rate by half.
However, despite the obvious benefits of our programme, the funding for it is coming to an end, which could threaten the whole scheme with closure from April 2012. It only needs a moderate annual investment of £50,000, which, when you think of the £40,000 cost of keeping someone in prison for one year, makes it surprising that the Government does not fund such programmes.
In the current climate, it is a challenge to secure funding, but I am passionate that we fund it not just for next year, but for the next three years.
It is also a challenge to identify opportunities within the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda that provide strategic synergy with objectives and meaningful, rewarding involvement that your staff can grow from, rather than just painting walls or weeding gardens. By getting your staff involved in a PVP such as ours, it could develop their mentoring skills as well as provide a rewarding CSR experience. Mutual benefit should exist within charity/corporate partnerships in terms of strategy and people – and we think we can offer that with our programme.
A minimal investment of £50,000 could result in a “win-win-win” situation for your organisation: win by fulfilling your CSR aspirations; win by doing something good for society by rehabilitating prisoners; and win by developing your staff and volunteers through their involvement in the programme.
Ex-offenders cannot prove themselves unless someone gives them a second chance. We do that, and gain a lot from it. Your organisation could too. Why not work with us to expand the PVP across the country?
In order for this programme to be sustainable, it has to be self-funding. We are passionate about this programme, it transforms prisoners’ lives and I want to keep helping people like Steve to get back on their feet. If I fell into trouble, I would hope that there would be someone out there to help me stay out of prison, to help me gain the skills for work and to help me have a home to call my own – wouldn’t you?
If you are interested in joining Sue Ryder and becoming a partnership funder for the PVP, contact Alice Jackson on 0207 554 5937.
Sally Smith, director of people, Sue Ryder