How SUEZ is using employment to help rehabilitate prisoners and ex-offenders

Blog by Emily Nurse, Sustainability and Social Value Intern at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a couple of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK sites in Surrey, and to speak with members of staff, employed through the company’s ROTL (Released on Temporary License) scheme. Having no previous knowledge of the scheme, and unaware that SUEZ provide this opportunity for offenders who are soon to have finished serving their sentence, I went to speak with them to find out more.

SUEZ aims to create training and job opportunities for disadvantaged groups, recruiting from the widest talent pool, including prison leavers. Many offenders have valuable and transferable skills from previous careers but find it hard to get back into the world of work, which can increase the likelihood of reoffending. Being in employment can reduce reoffending rates, as a growing body of research suggests.

The ROTL scheme allows offenders to temporarily leave their facility on a day-to-day basis to carry out agreed work, before returning to prison that day. Gareth Swain, SUEZ’s Regional Manager for Surrey, has vigorously championed the scheme throughout Surrey since it was initially trialed in 2018, and was keen to show me its clear and viable success. Given it can be challenging for ex-offenders to find employment, the scheme offers them a chance to learn new skills to create opportunities for employment following their release. Since the scheme began in 2018, there have been 34 ROTL placements, 28 of whom have been offered permanent contracts after successful completion of their placement.

I arrived at Epsom Community Recycling Centre (CRC) and was introduced to Team Leader, Albert. Albert obtained his job as a site operative at Epsom transfer station like anyone else seeking work – he prepared and went for an interview, and was successfully chosen based upon his skills, knowledge, and competency for the role. There was just one major difference: the interview took place in HM Prison Ford. Epsom Transfer Station contacted the prison to let them know that there was a vacancy available to be filled by someone from HMP Ford – the prison then advertised the role and put forward the most suitable applicants. Although the location of the interview was different, the process behind it remained consistent to that of a non-offender.

Albert began at Epsom Transfer Station as SUEZ’s first operative from the ROTL scheme. The journey to work wasn’t quick or simple, having to cycle from HMP Ford to the nearest train station, and then on the train to Epsom, which often went to Brighton first, and then back towards Surrey. His daily train fare and lunch were subsidized by SUEZ. Albert enjoyed working on site and being outside. He talked to me about the unique ‘family-like’ culture he felt working at SUEZ. ‘They didn’t treat me any differently’ he discerned. As part of the scheme, after completing on the job training for six months, Albert began to receive a wage, which was equal to the other operatives.

After being released from HMP Ford, Albert was offered a permanent, full-time position by SUEZ which he accepted, and has now been working at the Epsom site for three years, having also been promoted to Team Leader, responsible for the site and staff at the CRC.

When informing me about the ROTL scheme, Gareth stated that he only took on offenders with the intention to employ them permanently after having served their sentence. Long-term investment in staff at SUEZ is evident, where value and potential are seen from the offset and built upon over time. ‘SUEZ do not simply want to offer them work’, he expressed. ‘At SUEZ, we didn’t give Albert a job. We gave him a career.’

In the afternoon I headed over from Epsom to Witley CRC where I met with Kim. Like Albert, she found her role at SUEZ through the ROTL scheme, but she was still at HM Prison Send at the time I spoke to her. Kim discussed how she obtained the recycling operative role at Witley, and how she felt that having existing knowledge on scrap metal gave her the edge in the interview. A horticulturist by trade, Kim enjoys her job because it enables her to be outside every day.

Almost approaching the one-year mark at SUEZ, Kim spoke candidly about being given the opportunity to work. ‘I am grateful to have been given a second chance’ she expressed. Within two months of working at SUEZ, Kim was offered a full-time permanent position after she is released from HMP Send and is currently saving up to get her driver’s license and buy a car after she leaves. In parallel with Albert, Kim commented on the working environment at SUEZ, feeling respected and wholeheartedly part of the team. ‘This job has given me back pride in myself that I didn’t have before’, she said.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have met with Albert and Kim to discuss their experience with the ROTL scheme and learn how SUEZ drives sustainable employment by recruiting from the widest talent pool.