Levelling up Idea 1: Mandatory Employment for Prison Leavers

Jonathan Ley, Founder and CEO, Make Time Count.

On the day that our next Prime Minister is being announced, both candidates have committed themselves to “Levelling up”. So here’s my first idea:

“Upon release, prison leavers of working age must be in paid employment (or further education) for a period of at least 24 months”. 

Ok, before I get bombarded by calls of “what about ex-military or other groups” or “why should we help criminals who don’t deserve it?”… hear me out. 

Currently, we release around 55,000 prisoners back into society each year:

85% of prison leavers have no employment upon release (47,000 people)

77% still have no employment after 6 months (42,000 people)

Let’s look at their chances of reoffending**

  • Without a job: 60% likely to reoffend. 
  • With a job: 25% likely to reoffend – falls by more than half!

So basically: 

  • Of those 42,000 people without jobs after six months, 25,500 are likely to reoffend. 
  • Compared to only 3,000 of those with jobs. 

So, based on current employment levels, around 28,000, or half of those released from prison will reoffend*.

So how much do these unemployed reoffenders cost the system? 

Given that these offenders have already been in prison, the chance of them getting another jail sentence, costing £43,000 per year, is high. Let’s assume that 50% of those reoffending get an average of six months back in prison. This costs Prisons £310m per year. 

Let’s add another £5,000 pounds per offender to cover time for Police, Courts etc. that’s another £145m. 

So these reoffenders are now costing the criminal justice system around £450m. 

Now let’s add the benefits they’re entitled to; on average £300 per week. So now prison leavers without jobs and claiming benefits are costing around £660m per annum. So this gives a total cost of £1.1bn per year for unemployment plus high reoffending amongst prison leavers

Now, let’s *wave my magic levelling up wand* and grant all prison leavers a job.

Assuming current statistics only 25%, or 13,750, would reoffend. A reduction of 14,250 offenders, so we’ve halved it!  

Fairly stark result. This makes sense right? Give a person a job and they have purpose, money and frankly less time to reoffend.

How much have we saved the economy? We’ve reduced the estimated criminal justice system cost from £450m to £220m or around half the original amount.

Those 42,000 extra people in employment, instead of claiming benefits, assume they earn £20,000 per year, pay around £2,400 in taxes each; a combined amount of £100m instead of costing £600m. Not bad! 

But think of the cost of getting people into work, I hear you cry. Really? 

Most employment agencies work on commission. My solution would be to create a register of employment agencies, who would be responsible for employing prison leavers. They would receive 15% per month of the prison leaver’s salary.  

This is basically the tax income that these prison leavers would pay, reinvested into their employment for two years. This also means that employees would not need to pay, reducing barriers to employment for prison leavers. 

These agents could themselves be prison leavers. We would need around 2100 employment agents; they would be limited to 20 clients to ensure sufficient mentoring time per person. 

Assuming these 20 prison leavers were in employment for 20 of the 24 months post release, this job would pay around £45-50k per year. There are already a number of prison leavers and charities doing this valuable work for much less. They deserve to be rewarded. 

So by providing mandatory employment to all 55,000 prison leavers, we turn a £1.1bn pound cost to society into £490m one.

A saving of £700m or 62%……. That’s almost £17,000 saved per unemployed prison leaver!

In all these calculations we haven’t included the savings, financial and emotional, to the thousands of our fellow citizens that won’t become victims of crime due to reduced reoffending. Given that the government’s own estimates for reoffending are around £17bn, we can only assume that I have been far too conservative with my estimates here.  Thus my proposal for mandatory employment would save even more to society as a whole. 

Hopefully that’s convinced you that treating prison leavers as a high need group for employment would benefit all of us and should not be seen as a soft touch on crime. 

*The stats don’t seem to be readily available on how many crimes each offender commits – if anybody has these please let me know.

**With a sentence of less than one year, 70% of those WITHOUT jobs will reoffend, this drops by HALF (32%)  for those with jobs. For those serving sentences of more than one year 43% those without jobs reoffend compared to 18% of those with jobs.  


  1. Employment on Release – Ministry of Justice March 2022
  2. Analysis of the impact of employment on re-offending following release from custody, using Propensity Score Matching – Ministry of Justice March 2013
  3. Number of people employed in the United Kingdom from June 1971 to June 2022
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