In February 2016, we were invited by Plias Resettlement to visit Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville prisons to present workshops on criminal records and disclosure (they deliver the National Careers Service contract there). The aim was to look at the ongoing effects of a criminal record, how this can affect a person’s ability to reintegrate into society upon release from prison, and how to overcome these.
‘We recommend the workshops that Unlock deliver; they are informative, relevant and provide people with convictions with up to date and accurate information that enables them to move on with their lives.’ PLIAS Resettlement, 2016
Plias gave us a fairly flexible brief in running a 2-hour workshop. This is where the idea behind our Top 10 things to know about a criminal record came from (which we developed at the same time). We wanted to keep things simple, but wanted to cover some of the key areas of life that people need to be aware of.
Our 1st workshop at Wormwood Scrubs (photograph courtesy of PLIAS with permission from the prison)
The result was a new ‘Moving on with Conviction’ workshop. The idea being that we would highlight 10 key areas which we think, from experience of running our helpline, are important for anybody with a criminal record to know about, with plenty of opportunity for questions.
We had about 20 men come along to the classroom in the education department at Wormwood Scrubs. With a relatively small number of people, we were able to make the session very interactive with lots of questions and answers and many of the men shared their own personal experiences. Some comments after the event were:-
I think workshops like the one today should take place more often – enlightening
Very positive approach and really well presented
Full of confidence from the first one, we headed off to Pentonville a couple of days later. This one was quite different; it took place in the large prison chapel with around 70 men turning up. The size of the room and the number of people meant that the session had to be far more ‘controlled’ which made it difficult for too much interaction. Initially, this made it quite difficult to engage with the group.
We recognise how hard it is to take any positives out of being in prison and it’s easy to think that a criminal record will prevent you being able to move on successfully in the future. It was clear that many of the men in Pentonville felt this way.
Explaining to the group that there were may employers out there that were willing to give people a second chance and highlighting how 50% of Unlock’s staff and trustees had a criminal record seemed to endorse the positive message we were trying to put across.
From then on, the atmosphere in the room seemed to change, with the session becoming more upbeat. Comments from the men included:-
I understand a lot now about jobs and how to disclose
I felt the event was done very well under pressure
We are grateful to the support of Plias in covering our costs in preparing and delivering these sessions. We’ve come away with some ideas of how we might be able to do more of these in the future, as it’s clear to us that many people in prison are simply not made aware of things they need to be alert to in dealing with the impact of having a criminal record once they’re released.
Written by Debbie Sadler, Advice Manager