Ex-cons have so much to offer social care

I am tiring of the media’s negative responses every time anyone suggests allowing an ex-offender into the workplace. Isn’t it time the outdated “bang them up” approach was consigned to history along with the mentality that denied women the vote, that declared people were being over-sensitive about racism and regarded homosexuals as from another planet?

It is in society’s interest that offending citizens become full contributors once they have paid their dues and it amazes me that people are not screaming for a halt to the punitive approach. Ex-offenders must represent a huge slice of the workforce since one-third of the male population between 18 and 35 has a criminal record. It’s almost impossible to imagine the skills lost by locking them out of the workplace.

This latest row in the media over people with criminal records wanting to work in social care is the limit. In fact, many ex-offenders contribute a great deal to making our society a safer and better place to live. Their contributions are shaped by bitter and sometimes painful experience, not textbook theory. Who better to understand a problem than those who have experienced it and already found solutions? Who better to assist in combating crime and antisocial behaviour than someone who has lived it? Who better than someone who knows the “why, where, how, when” of crime to create the formula for stopping it?

I think it’s a bit rich that a media industry that earns billions from glamorising crime and peddling soft porn should sit in judgement on those who have left crime behind – people who are trying to turn their negative experience into something that will benefit the whole of society by reducing crime.

A wise man once said: “Those who pour their scorn upon me, do so only to alleviate their own disgusting circumstance.” I often think of carrying out a survey in the ex-offender community to establish how many ex-pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves have done business with a print or TV journalist. How about a “name and shame” campaign? Wapping could end up a ghost town.

I also find it difficult to square the media horror displayed when ex-offenders like me wish to use our knowledge with the fact that journalists and news researchers wanting to “pick my brains” constantly bombard my phones.

I am an ex-offender and run a successful charity which, among many things, works to de-glamorise crime. I educate children by telling them the truth about what a life of crime is really like and how a prison cell feels and smells. We do this with the police, social services and schools and the feedback is positive. Kids listen to me and accept what I say because I have credibility. I talk from experience using their language and I make them feel valued. For every one of those young people who is redirected away from crime, I have prevented at least one person being a victim of crime. Ex-offenders are a real asset in getting the message across that crime does not pay.

I have helped MPs revise the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Acting as a specialist adviser, my criminal past allowed them a perspective that would normally have been denied them. I also acted as a specialist adviser to the judge in the Zahid Mubarek public inquiry. My knowledge of how prison really works allowed him gain a clearer understanding.

I sit on many committees and advisory groups, working hard to make our society a safe and decent place to live. I do this because I have seen the beauty of this world and also lived the nightmare. I am nothing special, I am just another ex-offender who wants to live a crime-free life, without glamorising it.

A united society is strong and safe. A divided one is weak and dangerous. The sort of social exclusion that denies ex-offenders the chance to show they have changed is only promoted by tyrants.

Bobby Cummines is an ex-offender who now runs a charity, Unlock

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