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'I had to do something': Ex-prisoner explains how love for his kids helped him turn his life around

UK reoffending rates are worryingly high. But this innovative jobs program is giving former offenders a 'new lease of life'

Ryan Hull was supported by City & Guilds to complete qualifications whilst in Prison. credit: City & Guilds

When Ryan Hull was serving time in prison, he promised himself that he would never return.

“I knew I was I wasn’t going back to that life,” the dad-of-two says. “I knew I had to do something, change something, for my kids and family and myself.”

But it can be difficult for ex-inmates to find work, and Hull – a former scaffolder – worried about what his options would look like on the outside.

The UK has worryingly high reoffending rates. Some 29% of former prisoners are back in custody within 18 months of their release. Recidivism spikes massively among those sentenced to shorter sentences – 63% of inmates who serve less than 12 months in custody will reoffend within a year of release.

A lack of re-integration support is the single biggest contributor to this vicious cycle. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to an innovative jobs and training program, Hull has a “new lease of life”.

“It just hit the reset button,” he says. “It made me feel like I could do pretty much anything.”

Why is it important to offer former offenders jobs?

Through their Big Idea Fund, skills development organisation City & Guilds have supported 462 ex-offenders ­– including Ryan Hull – through training and into employment. Hull participated in a mechanics and an IT course, then gained a railway engineering qualification.

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Crucially, participants are promised a job on their release – a guarantee that left his classmates “buzzing”, Hull recalls. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, just 23% of former offenders released from custody between April 2021 and March 2022 were employed six months after their release. A job can change everything, Hull says.

“There’s so many people with so much potential just wasted in there. Because they’ve got that stigma, of you’ve been away, you’ve been to prison,” he says.

“But if someone just believes in you and gives you the chance, nine out of 10 people will take it and run as far as they can. If you enable someone to work, they want to work.”

Hull had been a qualified scaffolder, but struggled with his mental health. “One thing led to another” and he ended up committing an offence, for which he eventually served two years and eight months.

But that period of his life is now behind him, Hull says. The South London local finished his rail course two days before he left prison. Since then he’s been promoted to manager, and now aspires to owning his own scaffolding business.

“I’m starting a business degree at the open university today,” he says.

The right support can help former offenders “thrive”, said Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds.

“I am proud that we are continuing to create opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged people, helping them to reach their career goals and contribute to our society and economy,” she said.

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And the taxpayer benefits, too. According to Independent Social Return on Investment analysis, the social value of the Big Idea Fund – which supports around 60,000 people in adult and youth prison estates ­– equates to at least £10 million in economic and social gains. This is the equivalent of £18.62 for every £1 invested.

For the people involved, it’s a game-changer.

“Everything’s different for me now,” Hull says. “Prisons don’t have to be just a punishment – they can be a school.”

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