By Josh Payne, Press Association in Chamonix, France
Sir Richard Branson has said “some of the best entrepreneurs are sitting in prisons” as he nears the end of a 2,000km journey in aid of a charity helping young people.
The 68-year-old said he has hired “a lot of ex-offenders” at Virgin companies over the past five years – describing the idea as “good for society”.
The billionaire businessman was speaking ahead of his climb up Mont Blanc – the final stage of the Virgin Strive Challenge which aims to raise money for the charity Big Change.
Throughout the event, he has been accompanied by his son Sam and his nephew Noah Devereux.
The challenge has seen a core team of 13 cycle, sea kayak, hike and climb their way from Sardinia across Western Europe.
Sir Richard told the Press Association he believed the “wasted talent” in prisons could be helped a lot sooner in the education system if schools changed their approach to excluding pupils.
He said “one of the best employees” he has is a woman who arrives at Virgin’s head office from prison on Mondays, and also spoke of how one former offender has a senior role at Virgin Trains.
Before taking on the final stage of the challenge, Sir Richard said: “At Virgin, we take on as many people as we can from prisons and have a lot of ex-offenders working at Virgin companies.
“And I think if you give people the decency of work and if you give them a second chance, they won’t reoffend.
“But obviously if you start much earlier in the education system – so much the better.”
Speaking of where his original motivation to help ex-offenders came from, he said: “I was in Australia about 10 years ago. I went to visit Melbourne prison and the young people there, just to talk to the prisoners, and they told me how they literally just got dumped outside the prison when they got released.
“I found an organistation in Australia that had taken on 800 ex-offenders, for driving and lorry jobs and so on, and they have had the most incredible success rate.
“So I came back to England and talked to the Virgin companies. A lot of the Virgin companies are working hard at it, including Virgin’s head office.”
Sir Richard, who is staying in Chamonix ahead of the team’s attempt to scale Mont Blanc, continued: “There’s one woman who works in head office who is released from prison on the Monday morning, comes and works until Friday night and then goes back to prison for the weekend.
“She’s one of the best employees we have got.
“We’re trying to persuade other companies to do the same thing because we believe we can get every company to take on at least one or two people who were in prison.
“Because they are not reoffending, it’s good for society, it’s good for the individual prisoner, it’s good for the companies themselves.”
He added: “Some of the best entrepreneurs are sitting in prisons. There’s an awful lot of wasted talent sitting in prison that could be put to much better use in society if they could be put in the right positions.”