Nov 29, 2011

Virgin Record CEO Advocates for Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Billionaire Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group,  has sought to conquer the record industry, circumnavigate the globe by balloon, and introduce commercial space travel. Now Branson is urging the leaders of his 400 global companies to consider hiring formerly incarcerated applicants.

In a recent article in the Guardian,  Branson talks about his decision to actively pursue formerly incarcerated individuals as employees after spending a day in an Australian prison two years ago:

As soon as I got back to England, I contacted the MDs of Virgin companies and said to them that we must . . . try to take on as many ex-convicts as possible," he recalls.

How did they respond? "Generally positive," he says. "I think that people at Virgin appreciate the fact that we are an understanding company. I had one or two negative comments on Twitter, but nothing that concerned me. One of the prisoners I met in Melbourne told me he'd been released with no money. He had to find his own way to the city. He was thrown back out into this world with no help whatsoever. The end result was that he was back inside in a very short time. For people coming out of prison it's a vicious circle. If they can't get a job, the only thing they can do is reoffend. From society's point of view that can be very painful."

Virgin has worked with Working Chance to hire formerly incarcerated women (they also hire men) and so far the results have been encouraging:

[Jocelyn] Hillman, who founded Working Chance four years ago, was being interviewed by a newspaper about her work. "I said: 'We need someone like Richard Branson to get involved'," she explains. "He read the cuttings and got in touch with us. He said: 'How can I help?'"

Working Chance has successfully placed 173 female ex-prisoners with companies, including Pret a Manger, Sainsbury's and Virgin. Their reoffending rate is less than 5% compared with the general rate of about two-thirds of all adults released from prison, who are reconvicted within two years of being discharged. "We have a number of women working for Virgin Management," says Hillman. "One was taken on only last week. All are doing really, really well."

Branson has also made a push to encourage other companies to join him in hiring ex-offenders.

He explained why he has this mindset:

"One of the reasons perhaps that I'm more understanding than some people is that if I go back to my teenage years when I marched on the American embassy trying to stop the Vietnamese war, I was running from the police wielding batons."

For one of the wealthiest people in the UK it comes down to this:

"Everybody deserves a second chance.."