For this years’ Volunteers’ Week we want to recognise David’s volunteer work for Nacro as well as hear his story. David joined one of our focus groups in our justice and health directorate as well as working to promote the voices of people within the criminal justice system. David has also sat on our national panel to support our service users to have their voices heard, focusing on the participation of service user discussions and how Nacro can respond to service user needs and concerns. David is also particularly passionate about how DBS checks can hinder people with criminal records getting second chances.
In mid-January 2013, I was arrested. The crime? Applying for an admin post with the Red Cross. It turned out, it is an offence to simply apply for some vacancies when on an adult barred list. This resulted in a court appearance and absolute discharge was the verdict.
At the time, this highlighted the barriers I would face to live normally. In 2011, I had a conviction for theft. The theft from my work was to finance my alcoholism. I have been sober since my conviction with the support of AA. However, being in recovery for this, which prompted my criminal act, was not enough to break down the barriers to find employment. Numerous interviews, but no job offers. Employers viewed me as ‘too risky’.
I eventually found voluntary work at a local charity shop, and worked without incident until the shop closed, due to expire of lease in 2018.
In my experience, I found there was a lack of willingness by employers to take into account the background to criminal convictions, or the steps taken by the convicted person to avoid reoffending.
The fact that I successfully completed 120 hours of Community Payback placement was never taken into consideration.
It was concerning to discover that DBS checks were required for vacancies that provided minimal opportunity for someone to reoffend. Additionally, I found there was little provision at the Job Centre for assisting ex-offenders.
Work, of course, is more than just money – it is about self-esteem and a sense of purpose. Employment gives a person a greater stake in society and reduces the risk of reoffending. It additionally provides training in new skills and up to date references.
I therefore make the case that the over-use of DBS checks is counterproductive, and likely to increase the incidence of crime. During my time volunteering at Nacro, I have raised the issue of DBS checks and how they can be a barrier to those who want to change their lives and leave the past behind. The lack of opportunity and access to a stable financial situation can lead to reoffending due to frustration and low self-esteem.
Nacro should continue to remind wider society that everyone deserves a second chance if people are denied work and education – they are more likely to re-offend.
We should be looking at the person, not the criminal record.
I now also support AA members who have been in prison for many years to reconnect and re-engage with the local community