Leaving behind the past
Yesterday I went along to a Positive Prison? Positive Futures group meeting which brought together a diverse group of people with an involvement or interest in criminal justice. Group meetings are held regularly and are designed to be informal organic discussions with no agenda, no flip charts, no post-it notes and no feedback. All that is required of participants is that they share and learn.
There were brief presentations from several organisations including Families Outside, Youth Community Support Agency and Scottish Canals then we got down to the business of envisioning our ideal future for those involved or affected by criminal justice issues.
Each table was asked to come up with one idea that we could put into action immediately. I was sharing a table with staff from Paws for Progress, Mellow Parenting, Families Outside, Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum and Edinburgh Book Festival.
A major theme of the day was how we can eliminate the stigma of being a ‘former offender’ since this often regarded as an obstacle to individuals being successful in obtaining employment. Anecdotally, people with convictions report that even when they are appropriately qualified and experienced enough to meet job criteria and gain an interview, their past means that they are rarely the ‘preferred candidate’ in an increasingly competitive job market.
Our group produced an idea for an awareness raising campaign around this issue to tie into Youth Community Support Agency’s Twitter campaign #justlikeyou which will be officially launched in November this year. Pooling our organisational expertise and considering our diverse resources, we proposed using common interests and life choices like owning a dog or having children to highlight the links (rather than the differences) between people in general everyday life.
The discussions were lively, informative and good fun and it was a good way of meeting like-minded people working in criminal justice. However we all agreed that there was still a way to go to win over the general public and the media at large who mostly take a judgemental attitude to ‘former offenders’.