DHL: Supporting prisoner rehabilitation by enhancing the employability of prisoners and ex offenders

Date : 19 October 2011

DHLBusiness Sector

DHL Supply Chain is Part of the World's Leading Logistics Group, Deutsche Post DHL. DHL Supply Chain supply to and manage retail workshops within prison establishments for prisoners serving custodial sentences in England and Wales. Typical operational activity centres on the transportation of foodstuffs into retail workshops within those prisons that store and pick goods for individual prisoners orders.



Type of engagement

There is a moral dilemma around prisoner rehabilitation for restorative justice, and breaking employment barriers to promote opportunities for offenders and ex-offenders is a major social and attitudinal challenge.

It is estimated that the re-offending statistics can be as high as 70% if an offender is not supported through initiatives that target social re-integration (employment, training, wellbeing initiatives) This is said to be reduced to be 7% when these areas are successfully targeted.

In an innovative and pioneering approach designed to support and meet customer and business needs, DHL have engaged with the wider government rehabilitation agenda to provide prisoners with a real opportunity to develop employability skills, to gain qualifications and undertake work experience. In doing so they have identified a means of linking into customer need, of making a positive impact on the business as a whole through widening the talent pool to include a marginalised group and moreover give the offender a meaningful opportunity to ease their re -integration into society, break the cycle of crime and reduce re-offending post release. All this is without compromising the service DHL are contracted to deliver.

Purpose of employer engagement and activities

In 2008, DHL Supply Chain won a 10 year contract with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), to supply and manage the distribution of prisoner canteen through food retail workshops within prison establishments to prisoners serving custodial sentences. The NOMS estate comprises 137 prisons and 28 DHL workshops supplying a prisoner population of 80,000.

On the job training: The programme in action In providing this service there was no pre- requisite for DHL to engage with the offenders. However in working in this environment, DHL saw opportunity to link into the customer need to support the rehabilitation of offenders. As a result DHL have developed a programme that gives prisoners work opportunities not only within the DHL workshops within the prisons but through offering employment opportunities and skills training (NVQ’s) within the wider DHL warehouses as prisoners become eligible for Release On Temporary License (ROTL). Furthermore, through a developed deployment portal online accessible to all DHL HR managers across the UK, prisoners on final release and seeking permanent employment can be considered for interview when looking at the talent pool for roles within the business.

The rehabilitation programme is focussed on providing skills for life that target employability. The tasks required of offenders are no different to the roles DHL colleagues perform within the workshops and the wider DHL customer businesses.

By treating offenders as equals, endorsing equal opportunities for progression through HR policies, the programme of employing offenders within the DHL business has a positive impact upon the individuals motivation levels, empowering them to move on from their past.

To achieve this DHL have developed a 4 phase programme that supports the prisoner from the workshop to employment post release. The phases are outlined below:

  1. Identifying prisoners suitable for work placements within the retail workshops. (Based on recommendations from prison staff and associated educational and health agencies)
  2. Identifying prisoners who will most likely complete the National Vocational Qualification in Storage and Distribution offered by DHL in partnership with a reputable business school. (Based on good references from prison staff and DHL managers within the workshops where prisoners get an employment trial)
  3. Offering prisoners who are eligible for Release on Temporary License on the basis they are successful in their workshop placements, NVQ training (DHL) and rehabilitation programme work experience in the wider DHL. This is with consent from the DHL customer and a full risk assessment process to ensure public safety.
  4. Offering successful prisoners full time employment as a DHL colleague on release. (Based on successful completion of the prior three stages, job availability and an interview)

Corresponding and challenging objectives were set which included:

  1. To provide 500 offenders with meaningful employment within DHL’s workshops and 100 ROTL placements by December 2012.
  2. To provide an established nationally recognised training and skills programme in partnership with a business school (NVQs) that enhances on the job performance and increase employability chances post release.
  3. To enhance diversity within the DHL business through implementing inclusion measures that enable the business to build a talent pool that would otherwise be excluded.
  4. To reduce re-offending of prisoners to have a positive impact on society through employment and consequent savings to the tax payer

The programme is both complex and multi-faceted in design and implementation which reflects the range of stakeholders involved and the differing requirements of each prison environment that DHL is working in ranging from category A, very high security to category D, an open prison.

At the outset it was clear that a one size fits all model would not work and that some difficult challenges would need to be addressed if the programme was to be implemented successfully. These include ensuring:

  • the integrity of security within the prison establishments;
  • the integrity of the DHL business commercially and reputationally;
  • the safety of DHL colleagues in the workshops/ warehouses; and
  • the safety of the public when offenders are on ROTL.

To achieve this the programme has been underpinned by strong multi agency collaboration. DHL have engaged NOMS colleagues at all levels of their business within the strategy, communications and reporting structures for the inclusion programme.

In the prisons, DHL have built relationships with governors and prison staff to deliver a seamless operation that incorporates prisoners into the workplace but does not impose on prison regulations.

Additionally, DHL have worked in partnership with the Warrington Business School to ensure the learning and development programme is professionally delivered and complementary to the skills within the DHL workshops.

Finally Regional HR teams engaged with DHL customers through the organisation of employer days held at prisons across the UK to meet offenders and gain an insight to the benefits to the business of employing offenders. This has been key to securing ROTL placement offerings and increasing the numbers of offenders on ROTL working within the wider business. Furthermore, the regional teams, backed by DHL management, have invested time in training and awareness sessions to ensure colleagues are aware of the objectives of the offender program and that offenders are integrated smoothly within the business when in the workshops, on ROTL or fully employed.

Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending.

Results and Benefits

The programme has resulted in a range of benefits spanning the wider social, business and individual dimensions.

For the customer, the Ministry of Justice, DHL links into a crucial social need by supporting the rehabilitation agenda, securing funding for the NVQ programme (currently £580,000) and establishing a partnership with the Warrington Business School to deliver a tangible programme with clear outcomes and benefits to the individual and society at large year on year by providing meaningful employment opportunities to reduce reoffending.

For DHL business identified benefits include:

  • building a talented and motivated workforce with a group who are socially marginalised and that would otherwise be excluded
  • Linking into customer need as a value add
  • Supporting the wider DPDHL Living Responsibility Programme
  • Enhancing the Diversity agenda through widening the talent pool for selection. By placing work colleagues alongside offenders within the operations challenges the views and values of stakeholders for inclusion and inclusion within the workforce
  • Supporting NOMS rehabilitation agenda
  • Raising DHL’s profile as socially responsible citizen willing and able to tackle big social issues and to deliver real solutions. The following measures indicate the success of the programme thus far:
    • During 2010, 128 offenders completed the NVQ 2 in Storage and Distribution with 137 signed up for 2011.
    • Within a year of the four phase programme being established 550 offenders have employment in workshops, 64 have ROTL placements in the wider DHL and 7 have been full time employed. The 7 have not re-offended since joining the business.
    • With this talent pool DHL continue to deliver exceptional operational delivery and service Key Performance Indicators to NOMS.

DHL has used its successful delivery record and scale to recruit businesses through its own supply chains to support and expand the programme further. All DHL’s customers within the Food Retail Division of Supply Chain have now agreed in principle to offer prisoner placements on their sites.

Key Success Factors

DHL acknowledge that the journey has not been easy. The food retail contract represents DHL’s first foray into the justice arena and DHL Food Retail had no prior experience of working with a public sector contract. However the company believe that the benefits now being gained have made the effort truly worth while given the impact it has had at the individual, prison, DHL business and society levels. For others considering following their example the following hints and tips are seen as particularly important in securing success:

  • Building strong relationships with prison staff to scope out requirements, approach and appropriateness
  • Spending time to assess the suitability of offenders wishing to join the scheme
  • Ensuring that the scheme has top level management and workforce buy in to its objectives and implementation
  • Network with organisations who can offer experience and expertise in running offender programmes.

DHL firmly believe that this programme is making a difference to the lives of the offenders.

William Wild, an offender from HMP Acklington commented ‘If DHL had not given me the chance to complete this NVQ I do not feel I would have had the chance to complete it anywhere else.’

Find out more

Further information about DHL’s work in the rehabilitation arena and about how to get involved with other employers working to reduce re-offending through employment can be found at