The next issue of DDN will be out on 7 July — make sure you send letters and comments to email@example.com by Wednesday 25 June to be included. Letters may be edited for space or clarity – please limit submissions to 350 words.
Applying with conviction
I’m writing in response to Nicola Inge’s article Beyond conviction (DDN, June, page 8). The ‘Ban the Box’ campaign is an excellent idea and fully supported by online magazine theRecord and our partners at Unlock. The principle behind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was to break the cycle of offending and re-offending by enabling people with convictions to gain employment, and led to the concept of a spent conviction.
Sadly, with the inception of the CRB, now DBS, this principle suffered a massive setback, and asking about previous convictions at the application stage became commonplace, particularly in health, social care and education – the very services that espouse a progressive approach to rehabilitation. This, in turn, led to people with convictions not even applying for jobs that require a disclosure at the application stage.
The US approach based on the equal opps agenda and its accompanying legislation is well worth emulating in the UK, for all the reasons set out in the article. And, following Gandhi’s famous dictum, it would serve people with convictions, the recovery industry and the wider society well if drug and alcohol treatment services were to ‘be the change they want to see in the world.’
If recovery services were truly committed to equal opps, they would never expect candidates to discuss their offences at interview because this never gives people with convictions the opportunity to present themselves as equal to those without convictions. This differentially discriminates against those from minorities, as mentioned above, and male applicants – often under-represented among the recovery workforce – because they are seven times more likely to have a conviction than females.
There are only three reasons employers ask about convictions on application forms: because they think they ought to, because they intend to use that information to discriminate or because they are just plain nosy. The simple fact is that an employer only needs to know about the criminal record of people they will employ, i.e. the person who emerges as the leading candidate, after the interview stage is complete. There is no need for any employer to elicit or, more seriously, retain information about a person’s criminal record if they are not going to employ them. It is only the successful candidate who ever needs to be asked. The other candidates should be able to exit the recruitment process with their privacy intact. Sadly, this is not the case with any of the treatment service recruitment processes that theRecord is aware of.
Often, employers are also labouring under the illusion that screening for convictions at the application stage is a form of risk assessment. It is not. The absence of a conviction tells you nothing about a person’s honesty or safe conduct, it only tells you that they have never been caught and convicted.
A person with a history of, say, violence or fraud, but who was never caught, can sail through the process untested, while the poor sod convicted of possessing a few grams of weed or stealing a car 20 years ago gets grilled by complete strangers in a powerful position in a non-therapeutic setting. Any therapist will tell you that this can be devastating, even relapse-inducing. Both Unlock and theRecord regularly receive mail and calls from people who’ve been treated in this way only to be told that a stronger candidate got the job, so there was never any need to put them through that part of the interview because their record was never actually relevant to the employer. And even when they are successful, they are often then faced with working alongside people to whom they have disclosed their convictions – the people who interviewed them. It might be better if such disclosures are only ever made to HR and passed to senior management, not colleagues, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
So, if recovery employers want to offer an equal opportunity and run a safe and legal service, there are just three things they need to do. Firstly, ask only the prime candidate about previous convictions. Secondly, follow that up with the appropriate level of DBS check and, thirdly, risk assess that candidate regardless of whether they have a conviction or not. There are several psychometric tests that can be used for this in consultation with a suitably qualified psychologist. If their favourite candidate proves risky, then move on to the next. It would also be very helpful if employers would state at the application stage which level of DBS check is required for that specific post. This would give the candidate an informed choice whether to proceed with an application or not.
Richard, editor, www.the-record.org.uk
I totally agree that commissioning needs to change dramatically in order to provide a better service (DDN, June, page 18). The work done to help people is extremely undervalued and underrated, the service user suffers and the high pressure of more responsibility puts stress levels up. This can cause sickness and puts many workers at risk for their own mental wellbeing. Erm hello, is anyone actually concerned, or are they so far removed from the problem they have no idea?
Rachael Almond, by email
I am currently studying at the BRIT School and am in the process of producing a news show for FM and internet broadcasting through ‘BRIT FM’.
I am producing a five-minute package about a common issue in our society. I see how drugs are very incorporated into young people’s lives and how drugs surround our youth culture heavily.
I wish to gather a few interviews to gain a professional perspective on the issue – the effect of certain drugs on performance or health, or why people turn to drugs (both legal and illegal) habitually. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Frazer Foster, by email
I went to a few of the big debates on abstinence versus harm reduction in London in 2008 and 2009 and listened to a lot of fear coming from the floor, and anger. Paul Hayes, chief executive of the NTA, when the question about spirituality came up said, ‘I don’t do spirituality’. Nearly all the people there cheered and clapped and I heard the person behind me say, ‘what do the 12-step lot think about that?’ When I looked around the person who had made the remark was a drug worker and was laughing to three service users from the area I come from, who, by the way, are still in the tier 3 system.
Harm reduction should be the first port of call for the addict who suffers – and I say suffers because people do not turn up at services if everything is alright in their life. Everyone has an opinion, and that’s all Stanton Peele has (DDN, April, page 8). Oh, and a book to promote.
This government has it right when they say people can recover and live fulfilled and productive lives by turning up to 12-step meetings without ever stepping into the UK’s tier system. Twelve-step meetings are where they meet others of their kind who have a solution which they give freely. Public Health England are promoting that drug services should take service users to meetings, yet they are still telling people that they must first do their groups or consider applying for detox and rehab funding.
The word recovery is not new, though it’s thrown about and being defined to death. Let’s hope next we will get some expert saying ‘Bananas’ is the new buzz word –someone might even write a book about it.
Martin Territt, by email
The first ever Global Drug Survey drugs meter minutes video competition (DDN, April, page 14) has extended its entrance deadline. You now have until 14 February 2015 to submit a harm reduction and drug education related video – for more information, email email@example.com.
Adam Winstock, consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, and founder of the Global Drug Survey