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Lets be inclusive not exclusive – a possible solution to re-offending

Andi is of the firm belief that inclusion is at the heart of preventing re-offending. Read how his own experiences have shaped his views.

I had a childhood that was plagued with crime, poverty, drugs, violence and adversity. This meant spending some time in care, school exclusion and heavy drugs use at an early age.

I was convicted and sentenced to 18 months YOI at 17, twenty months YOI at 19, four months at 21 and then two years as an adult at 22.

I have always worked in between these sentences and my offences were alcohol or substance misuse related. I got work through recruitment agencies and chose to never disclose my convictions. I believed that I would get the job first and prove that I was a hard worker, then if they found out, I’d explain that this was the reason why I didn’t disclose.

In 2007 whilst I was sweeping the floor in a warehouse I heard that the Leeds Youth Justice Service were looking for volunteers. I thought I might be good at working with kids like myself and help them avoid making similar choices and mistakes to me. I also felt it would help me achieve a career I thought I deserved.

As I was going to be working with kids and needed to have an enhanced DBS check, I disclosed my convictions. I explained that I had qualifications from prison but didn’t know how to put them to good use and I managed to convince them to let me volunteer with the service. This was the evidence I needed to show that I had the skills to turn my unfortunate life around.

Whilst volunteering, a temporary paid opportunity arose working as a support worker for a sport programme in partnership with a local rugby club. I was amazed when I discovered that my application had been successful and that I’d be paid to work with kids they said were ‘hard to reach’ when in fact they all seemed to hold their hands out to me.

Staff at Leeds YJS saw how well I worked with the kids and how we formed relationships based on trust; we spoke together, related to each other and perceived the world in a similar way. It wasn’t long before I was offered the chance to be a sessional worker; although this meant I didn’t have the security of a contract, it was a risk I was happy to take.

18 months later, a full time job became available and, confident that my skills and knowledge were commensurate with my colleagues, I applied and got the job. However, when it came to my contract of employment having to be drawn up by HR, they had some real concerns about my criminal record. My line manager was apparently told by HR

It’s a risk taking him on and, if anything goes wrong, you’ll have to pay the consequences”

Luckily my line manager knew me reasonably well and knew all about my criminal record. I’d managed to build up a good relationship with him and he was happy to fight my corner. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d chosen to turn his back on me; he had a mortgage to pay and a family to support and being told that it would be his fault if I messed up was unfair. It might have been too much for him and stopped him from giving me a chance.

However, he did take the risk and I’ve been working for the service for the last 12 years. I’ve become a specialist in my field and qualified in Youth Justice in 2013. I’ve created programme after programme that have supported children in desisting from offending and therefore reduced the number of potential victims. I’ve also written a book called “Your Honour Can I Tell You My Story?”

As people with convictions, we’re in a unique position to assist others to make better choices. However, due to the DBS process, we’re the least likely to obtain such positions. Lots of us are disadvantaged from the start of our lives. 25% of adults in prison were in care and up to 42% excluded from school.

Criminal records are a barrier, however a lack of education, gaps in employment history and an inability to articulate our stories without employers believing we are shirking responsibility are also barriers.

Inclusion is the heart beat of preventing re-offending so we must focus on this. We must find a way of better regulating the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act to ensure employers are not discriminating against people on the basis of their convictions. People with convictions have so much to offer and like me, will forever be grateful to the organisations that believed in us and recognised our strengths and not just the ‘risk’ we pose.

I believe living in a risk averse society is a significant factor in why our re-offending rates post custody for young people and adults are so high. Probation don’t always assist offenders in this area focusing instead on public protection. They often create further barriers by sharing risk information with employers when the individual chooses not to.

This is not strengths based and I don’t believe this is an approach that keeps the public safe. Yes we need to protect the public but each case is different. People that are seeking employment are trying to move away from offending. If I’m right, we are socially marginalising this particular group and increasing the risk of re-offending so an alternative approach is required for those upon release from custody with inclusion at it’s core.

By Andi

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