In the Media

Why ex-offenders should be given a role in cutting youth crime

PUBLISHED September 19, 2011

Ex-prisoners have a lot to teach young people and will be listened to, says Stewart Dakers As the justice system struggles to address youth crime, there is one resource which could do more to retrieve and reform young people, to divert them from crime, and to restore a positive attitude in them than a dozen public enquiries and a battalion of QCs. The people who know the streets, the youth on them, and what is in their heads, are people who have been there themselves, ex-prisoners. Yet they are never consulted. I have worked with a number of ex-prisoners over the past ten years. I have witnessed their workshops, and seen the results. They are truly impressive. Agencies like UserVoice , Foundation4Life , and YouthempowermentCDS , are just some of the many initiatives undertaken by prisoners on release as they seek to put something back. They are managed by ex-prisoners and employ other ex-prisoners. Selection is rigorous, training robust and supervision exemplary. These are remarkable men and women with an impressive product. They deliver workshops across the country which aim to divert young people from crime by developing their sense of personal responsibility, by confronting them with the victims of crime, their families, and the community. They show them the consequences of crime for themselves and their life chances. These are the only people who enjoy genuine credibility with 'the yoof'. It is not just that they have been there and got the T shirt. They know why the young people misbehave, because they did it themselves. They know how to encourage personal responsibility because they have acquired it the hard way. They know the consequences of crime, because they have experienced them big time, and still do. They know what triggers to squeeze, what sanctions to impose. And they deliver. They have acquired a portfolio of skills in engaging with young people, which are beyond the imagination of the chuntering classes and, yes, most of the professionals. Time and again, I have watched a dozen young people, who would normally be off the wall within five minutes of attending a class, sit spellbound for two hours. I have watched them at lunch break deep in conversation before returning for a further two hours still paying attention. It is a powerful, intense two-way process, with each, ex-cons and youth, exchanging painful, personal stuff, opening up, being vulnerable, sharing fears and hopes. In the pain and the tears, the young people rediscover a sense of purpose and of self. This is truly remedial work and it works. Unfortunately I have also witnessed the uphill struggle ex-offenders face. This is genuine resettlement, yet they continue to confront prejudice and incredulity. They are sidelined, ignored in the corridors. For all the extraordinary work they do, they remain engaged in a constant battle to make their voices heard, while political ears attend to the purveyors of judicial snake oil and the lucrative contracts are awarded to faithful amateurs. The corridors are intellectually bankrupt on this issue but the cells have more than enough wisdom to confront it. We possess a rich seam of unused talent. Let's use it. Youth justice Young people Social exclusion Prisons and probation Communities Stewart Dakers © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds