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Justice in Jobs: The importance of employment to youth in the justice system

Finding work with a criminal record is fraught – and often, maintaining employment in complex and changing circumstances can be even harder. Yet evidence and experience show many justice-involved job-seekers are motivated workers, capable of making the most of opportunities when given a chance. And employment and training provide the stability, purpose and resources young people need to move away from the criminal justice system and onto a better path.

But how can employers safely and practically manage the opportunity of hiring someone with a criminal record? How can workers and peers support young people to secure and maintain employment or training, amid challenging circumstances? And how can we, as a community, meet our responsibility to ensure marginalised young people aren’t left behind?

We put these questions, and more, to our group of experts in this youth justice roundtable conversation, which is adapted from the Justice in Jobs webinar we held in July 2022.

From top left clockwise, moderator Andrew Yule with panellists Rob Auger, Jes Wikaira, Anoushka Jeronimus and Cheryle Landolina at the Justice in Jobs webinar held on 20 July 2022.

Meet the panel

Rob Auger

Operations Manager – Employment Services, Jesuit Social Services

Anoushka Jeronimus

Director – Youth Law Program, WEstjustice

Cheryle Landolina

Industry Stakeholder Manager – Major Projects and Construction, Jesuit Social Services

Jes Wikaira

Intensive Support Worker – Jesuit Social Services

The conversation

How effective is having a job in helping young people move forward with their lives without returning to reoffending?

Cheryle Landolina

With one of our employers the reoffending rate is zero. Nobody has gone back and reoffended and the retention rate has been very high.

Jes Wikaira

Two of my young people who were employed full-time this year have completed their orders and stayed out of reoffending. So there is opportunity, all the time, for that to happen. But it takes a number of things, like having good relationships in the community. Then long-term, once they get into the routine of being employed, that opens up other opportunities for them; exposes them to other peer groups, and to other positive activities in the community. It really is a positive pathway if they can get onto employment or education.

Eighty per cent of adults leaving prison face unemployment, and unemployment rates are even higher for younger people. What’s stopping people from having employment upon release?

Anoushka Jeronimus

WEstjustice’s Youth Employment Program did a report called Ignorance Is Not Bliss. One of the findings was that young people aren’t being equipped with the right knowledge or tools to be ready for work. They didn’t have the skills going in. So, the idea that they’re going to miraculously be ready to get a job, having spent time in custody? No.

We found that a lot of young people who can get a job are subjected to workplace exploitation – cash-in-hand work, being in conditions that aren’t ideal – and then they’re reluctant to say anything, because they feel lucky to even get a job.

One of the other things that we talk about is youth unemployment. That rate is higher for young people from multicultural backgrounds. Part of that is the fact that their parents are also finding it difficult to attain work. Part of being job-ready is role modelling, and knowing what to do, knowing what to ask, knowing how to self-advocate, and because their parents haven’t had those opportunities, they then are not able to have those opportunities.

“Young people aren’t being equipped with the right knowledge or tools to be ready for work.” 

Jes Wikaira

Integrating back into the community is one big thing for young people. For many of them, they’ve come from circumstances, gone into custody, and when they’ve been released have gone back into the same environment with all the same issues. So, it’s really about reconnecting back into the community.

Working with employers who hire people with criminal records, what concerns do they have about their employees?

Cheryle Landolina

One of the concerns is how it would impact on the business: will other people find out about it? We encourage them to keep confidentiality so that people can be judged on their own merits. And they’ve got to take that leap of faith and give trust, and often that’s returned if they do. I think services like ours have a big role to play. And then maybe have a chat to the employee about barriers or discrimination people experience – have the conversation, like, is past history even relevant to their job? Somebody was charged with an offence in the past, but they have made amends. So, is it relevant?

“They’ve got to take that leap of faith and give trust, and often that’s returned if they do.” 

Sometimes it’s not only the employer who has an issue with someone’s criminal past, but other staff in a workplace. How do we, as a community, overcome that attitude, to enable people to move forward with their lives?

Anoushka Jeronimus

I think the best way to start is by actually asking what the barriers are. It makes sense that people have concerns and fears and reservations. So, there’s a question about whether we can meet in the middle, and whether we can support them to overcome it. Because if we’re talking about helping young people be job-ready in custody, then it’s about continuing that work to help employers, and also staff, to accept and understand young people who have been involved in the system, and breaking down barriers, and understanding what those barriers may be to begin with.

“It makes sense that people have concerns and fears and reservations. So, there’s a question about whether we can meet in the middle, and whether we can support them to overcome it.”

Rob Auger

You can’t let what you’ve done in your past define who you are today. We have to keep at it and keep them feeling hopeful. And hopefully, you can remove a few of the obstacles along the way, so that each step they go, well, ‘I got a job’. That’s a start. Giving hope to that person is probably the biggest thing we can do.

“We have to keep at it, and keep them feeling hopeful.” 

Hear more of this discussion at jesuit.social/justice-in-jobs

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