Norwich’s top judge in plea to businesses to help break the cycle of crime

Norwich's most senior judge today issued a plea to local businesses across the city to help break the cycle of crime by giving former prisoners job opportunities.

Judge Peter Jacobs, who was appointed the first Honorary Recorder for Norwich City Council in 2008, said employers, next to agencies who provide accommodation for ex-offenders on release, had a vital role to play in helping to reduce crime and re-offending.

Norwich's Chapelfield Shopping Centre has been commended for its custody and community project which has seen more than 70 serving offenders from Norwich Prison complete a programme of work experience and training - with many being given employment on release - since it was launched in 2009.

Judge Jacobs said: 'There is one other way in which in the right case we can try to break the cycle of deprivation and crime - that is by the provision of employment.'

The judge, who was speaking yesterday at a Business in the Community (BITC) event hosted by Norwich-based law firm Mills and Reeve which highlighted the links between unemployment and re-offending, said he recognised it was not a suitable option for all offenders.

He said: 'I'm well aware that many of the persons who appear in the dock at Norwich Crown Court are frankly unemployable. In many cases it is difficult for them to get out of bed to get them to court for a hearing at either 9.30am or 10.30am. In some cases that would apply if it was by 9.30pm.'

But Judge Jacobs said he wanted to get across the message to 'the hundreds and indeed thousands of employers' that there were others who were suitable for work and of making a meaningful contribution to society.

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He said: 'You obviously have to decide whether or not a business case can be made for employing a particular ex-offender.

'All that can be requested of employers is that, with their eyes wide open, they will at least give consideration to offering the prospects of employment to suitable former offenders on their merits as if this does not happen the cycle of crime is unlikely to be broken.'

Judge Jacobs said he hoped businesses in the city would listen to the plea and help ease the disappointment and regret he and others in his position have felt while presiding over crown court cases.

He said: 'I first started practice as a young barrister 40 years ago. I once calculated that in that 40 years I must have observed in the dock and read or listened to the cases in relation to at least 20,000 defendants.

'The older I get the more I lament the wastage.

'As my number one concern, I lament the pain and misery they inflict upon often totally innocent victims. My next lament is the cost. In an ideal world I and the whole panoply of the criminal law, barristers, solicitors, court clerks, probation officers and prison officers would not be needed.

'But I also lament the way that the individuals who appear before me are wasting their lives.'

Judge Jacobs, who has seen himself first hand the benefits of unpaid work orders as an alternative to custody for suitable offenders, said: 'I really do believe that both we in the courts and those of you who are employers do have the opportunity in some cases to turn things around.'

The event heard about the success of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre Custody and Community Project which to date has seen 74 serving offenders from Norwich Prison complete the programme, 83pc of whom have secured employment upon release. Only 8pc of those who have attended have re-offended compared to a national average of 50pc.

The project, which was last year highly commended in the Work Inclusion Category at the national Business in the Community awards, has also helped overall staff turnover drop from 16pc to 9pc with absenteeism reduce from 5.5pc to just 3pc.

Kay Chaldecott, managing director of Capital Shopping Centres Group PLC which owns Chapelfield Shopping Centre, said: 'The outcomes of the project have been compelling and the project has been cited as an exemplar in the field of business help for offender support and rehabilitation.

'We are delighted to be in partnership with a project that sees a major employer in Norfolk offer new opportunities for former offenders willing to take them.'

The success of the scheme has encouraged other businesses in the county, including May Gurney, to projects of their own working with serving prisoners at Norwich.

Business in the Community, a business-led charity focused on promoting responsible business practice, launched its Right Step Project in July 2010 to work with businesses to enhance the employability prospects of former offenders.

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