Article by Json Keto-Edwards, winner of Top Of The Policies Southwark Local Government event (1 Sept 2012)

Json Keto-Edwards won our Top Of The Policies event in Southwark on 1 September, following a ballot on the night. His article about his winning policy idea was first published by LabourUncut here.

Labour Uncut

LAPEL – a way forward for increasing the participation of local communities in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders

Last week Json Keto Edwards won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event on local government in Southwark. The winning proposal tackled the question of how to bes tsupport ex-offenders.

LAPEL stands for the Life After Prison Employment League. It is a policy proposal that offers a new way to re-integrate ex-offenders into the community, and, critically, prevent re-offending.

Punishments vary in degree when the courts assess punitive sanctions but in reality, a conviction is a conviction no matter how petty or serious the issue.

Finding employment is naturally not an easy task, but when an individual has a previous conviction be it spent or unspent it is an even taller order. We all now live in a world where most employers including professional bodies demand to know if a prospective employee has any convictions.

The irony about this question is that when such information is disclosed, chances are the individual does not make the shortlist. If not disclosed before employment it may form the basis of a later dispute or sacking following such appointment.

As an employer who has employed people with previous convictions, I have found these individuals worthy candidates with a strong desire to want to prove themselves deserving of the opportunity given them. I also believe that a legacy founded on employers supporting this group would only serve to reduce re-offending.

Based on this experience, my organisation Chainges Today is leading calls for a new approach to supporting ex-offenders. We believe LAPEL could be a vital tool in rehabilitating and re-settling ex-offenders.

The programme would involve an accreditation that can be displayed by employers showing their social responsibility in supporting the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

Ex-offenders would be able to qualify for a parallel certification that would demonstrate their commitment to rehabilitation and could be presented to potential employers.

While many consider Peckham (Southwark) a crime hot-spot, we at ChaingesToday see it as an ideal location for LAPEL to revolutionize the relationship between offenders and communities.

We are engaging with Southwark council with a view to encouraging other employers and businesses in Southwark to understand that playing a role in supporting these individuals in finding work, equals a greater guarantee that they would not re-offend.

The council is ideally placed to support such an initiative, helping generate awareness of the business accreditations and ex-offender certifications, as well as taking more direct action themselves.

For example, the council could incorporate provision for ex-offender employment through contractual arrangements with its suppliers, making allowances available to train these individuals and possibly offer them employment.

Where an ex-offender is not immediately ready for employment, we would want to route them through to the right support from existing programmes such as mentoring to help them build the skills needed.

The critical success factor in the rehabilitation of an ex-offender is to re-integrate them into the legal economy.

A recent survey on new prison arrivals shows that some 26% of these offenders have listed “self-employment” as their previous occupation. Many have operated in the “grey economy” outside of the financial and taxation systems. This grey economy, the extent of their market knowledge, has in many instances involved criminal enterprises involving dealing drugs or trafficking stolen goods; in all a menace to society.

A report from the Prison Reform Trust shows the number of offenders being returned to jail has more than trebled in the past five years. The cost to the tax payer of re-offending is £13 billion a year, before counting the cost to the victims of crime.

The question is not whether we can afford to improve out support for ex-offenders through programmes like LAPEL, but whether we can afford not to?

Json Keto Edwards is chief executive of Chainges Today, a charity based in Southwark.

John Slinger

About John Slinger

Chair and co-founder of Pragmatic Radicalism. Consultant at strategic communications consultancy Quiller Consultants (Westminster). Vice-Chair of Rugby Constituency Labour Party (http://www.rugbylabour.org/). 'Pop-up' writer (see http://slingerblog.blogspot.com). Member of Progress and Unite. Trustee Director of Carers Support Service (Warwickshire charity running young carers projects). Fellow of Humanitarian Intervention Centre (http://hicentre.org/). Executive Committee member of Labour Friends of Iraq (http://www.labourfriendsofiraq.org.uk/). Formerly worked for Ann Clwyd MP in the House of Commons. Twitter @JohnSlinger