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Supporting women into work at HMP Drake Hall

Our January ‘Unlocking Summit’ recognised the positive impact of the ‘Unlocking Potential’ sector drives that were held between October 2022 and 2023. The event celebrated the contributions of HMPPS colleagues, employers and partner organisations towards the campaigns.

Lucy, Prison Employment Lead at HMP Drake Hall, won in the Innovation and Improvement staff recognition category. She caught up with us about her role in Unlocking Potential, the value of hosting regular employability events and the work she does to support women into employment.

Lucy a Prison Employment Lead standing next to an upright banner depicting images of people at work.

Tell us about Unlocking Potential!

Recruitment drives highlight the employment opportunities available across the sectors and attract passionate candidates who can share their enthusiasm for wanting to get a job on release amongst peers and employers.

An example of the feedback I’ve received from prisoners includes:

It was very useful as it helps you understand what type of employment is available and who will employ you on release from prison. The companies were very helpful giving good advice about what you need to do before and after release.

A big thumbs up from me. I had a great experience and look forward to working with Iceland upon my release. Thank you for the chance, I couldn’t be happier.

My top tips for employers around employability events are:

  • Use the opportunity to interact with potential candidates, as it set prisoners at ease when they apply for your vacancies, knowing you won’t judge them for being in prison.
  • Visit prisons that fit with the locations in which you are hiring, to make sure you’re meeting the most appropriate candidates.
  • Use prison visits and meeting candidates as a way to understand how you can support new recruits when they join.

How did it feel to win the Innovation and Improvement category?

I was very surprised to say the least! Throughout the day I heard so many amazing stories of what people are doing nationally, and I feel so proud to be part of that. It really is great to see how far we have come and what has been achieved so far.

Beverley, Employment Broker for the Women’s Directorate, said:

Lucy works hard for the Women at Drake Hall; nothing is too much trouble, and she always goes the extra mile in her aim to help the Women find a new life on release – she is making a real difference.

What are the main challenges you face when supporting women into employment?

I think one of the big challenges is changing the perceptions of people – some individuals believe that because they have a criminal record, they are unemployable.

An example is when I was working with a woman, and it was her first time in prison. Since being sentenced she had lost her job, her confidence and had low expectations about what kind of employment she would take up because of her criminal record. She believed she would struggle to find a job. 

We discussed the options available to her based on her extensive work history and skillset and I supported her to attend job interviews with companies and charities. I’m pleased to say she took up a permanent position as a Business Administrator less than a week after her release. The employer who interviewed her said:

She is fabulous, such a breath of fresh air.

Another way we are addressing this challenge at Drake Hall is working with employers on training. Last year a Google representative came to the prison to deliver the first ‘I Am Remarkable’ program in a prison setting. This is a global movement empowering everyone to celebrate their achievements and to build confidence.

There are so many hard working, skilled and talented people within prison and I want to ensure that they have the opportunities to develop themselves and lead a new life in the community.

Any last thoughts?

Prison can be a very daunting environment where people feel at their lowest and most vulnerable; being able to provide that hope that they are able to rebuild their lives is so rewarding. Employment is a stabilising factor in life and to feel like it is out of reach can be devastating; telling someone that they have a job when they leave prison is priceless.

To find out more about Prison Employment Leads and the Unlocking Potential campaigns, visit ‘Unlocking’ employment campaigns.

By Lucy, Prison Employment Lead, HMP Drake Hall