Transforming Public Opinion
Successfully reintegrating offenders into society is the goal for Transforming Rehabilitation, but our society demonizes offenders and wants to punish them some more upon release, our attitude is summed up in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. I know of a person whose last employer will not provide them with a reference, despite years of good service, and the offence being unconnected with employment. This is legal and probably typical.
Can we change our attitude? Fifty years ago I was in secondary school, back then homosexuality was “The love that dare not speak its name”, there were 20,000 men in prison, 1,500 of whom were homosexuals expected to change their sexual orientation in an all male environment. In my school anyway, you were encouraged to write something controversial in your essay and support it with evidence. For my art history essay I wrote Michael Angelo was a homosexual supported by lots of evidence from his work. I was threatened with being in serious trouble if I dared to write something like that again. Then homosexuals were barred from teaching, I asked my parents why? “They might interfere with the boys” I was told, “but heterosexuals might interfere with the girls”, “That's different”, “Why?” There was no answer because there is no answer that's logical.
In fifty years we have almost but not quite changed society's attitude to homosexuality. Until recently anthropological studies that revealed that other species engaged in homosexuality were suppressed. Very recently the book “Tango makes three” the story of a couple of homosexual penguins who successfully reared an adopted egg in a New York zoo was banned from libraries as unsuitable for children to read.
Can we change our society's attitude to criminals, my answer is “Yes”, but it will take time. Meanwhile countries that we would think are less enlightened than us are getting ahead. Singapore has its Yellow Ribbon Project. Started by CARE, Community Action for Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders, the project supports its objective of the successful re-integration into the community by making the public aware of the problems faced by ex-offenders. Ninety percent of the population know of it, sixty percent support it, 1,700 employers have signed up not to discriminate against people with convictions.
Turkey has a different approach an employer with more than 50 employees must have one with a criminal record or pay a fine which goes towards vocational training of offenders. Norway treats discrimination against criminal convictions similarly to discrimination against disability. Whilst here a lady who punched a girl in a party as a teen will always have this disclosed under the enhanced DBS check, eighty percent of employers will automatically bar her. A nineteen year old boy who received an up skirt photograph from his seventeen year old girl friend has a conviction for storing an indecent image of a child (strangely it would have been legal if they were married) he will most likely never get a job requiring an enhanced DBS check. If we want to transform rehabilitation, we must start by transforming the public perception of people with criminal records first, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will follow public opinion.