YOUNG ex-offenders released from jail are to be given a second chance by the Co-operative Group, which has teamed up with probation services to offer them a job.
At the British Chamber of Commerce conference on retail crime in London, Chief Executive Martin Beaumont said that it was time retailers took responsibility for the underlying causes of crime, such as robberies in Co-op Group stores.
Mr Beaumont said the Co-operative Group has formed a pilot partnership with the probation services of Liverpool and Manchester, which offers employment training opportunities to young ex-offenders aged between 18 and 25 years.
He said: "The jobs will be non-customer facing roles within one of our distribution centres, specifically chosen to try to lift the young person away from the peer pressure and sub-cultural influences that originally encouraged the offence.
"As responsible retailers, I believe we have a role to play in assisting communities to manage their own youth crime and anti-social behaviour problems, but I also believe that as responsible retailers, it is time that we stopped kicking the retail crime football from pillar to post, and started to support the Government in addressing the underlying societal causes of crime."
From a recent visit to Business In The Community, in south London, Mr Beaumont discovered that 82 per cent of young people re-offend within two years of being released from prison and 60 to 80 per cent have a reading and writing ability of an 11-year-old.
He said these "shocking" statistics would dramatically reduce their opportunities for employment following release.
Added Mr Beaumont: "You must concede that if we stop one person from following a perpetual life cycle of prison, release and re-offence, then we have had success, and it is from such acorns that many of our finest oak trees have grown.
"My feelings about how we will recognise ongoing success are mixed. I believe all businesses should embrace their responsibility to the wider society that they operate in.
"I concede that on one level, success will require a critical mass of scheme participants before we begin to register changes in society through our crime surveys and statistical databases."
A crime survey of 16 co-operative societies released last year reported incidents of physical abuse of staff had risen by 39 per cent over the previous year, and one in four robberies in Co-op stores involved the use of a gun.
To help staff recover from violent crimes in Co-op stores the society has set up an in-house working party to establish the best method of equipping employees with the appropriate skills and training to handle confrontational situations.
It is also implementing a 24-hour 365 day counselling service available to all staff through the use of a third party supplier. The service will also provide face-to-face counselling sessions for employees after traumatic incidents, if necessary.