We KNOW that certain things can change.

We know that caterpillars can transform into butterflies.
We see the changes that the seasons bring each year as springtime emerges from the seeming death of winter.
We see the development of children through adolescence into adults as they go on to lead countries and organisations and create technologies that were beyond the imagination of their previous generation.
But why is it that we have a justice system that has no capacity to accept the ability of criminals to change?

Case in Point.
An IT consultant, working for a UK based technology company was recently apprehended and arrested by a group of 6 police at the airport, having just returned from working internationally installing Wi-fi systems into the retail stores of a global company.

The Reason?
An administrative error arising from an overstretched probation service that has been unable to support him in completing a community service order given over 15 years beforehand.

His Crime?
Silly mistakes made as a 17 year old following the breakup of the family home that resulted in a custodial sentence, fines and community service, but also a label that will follow him for the remainder of his life.

His Journey?
Now 33 years old he has made a complete turnaround after graduating from university, securing a responsible job and establishing a home with his fiancé and stepson.

Do we truly believe that human change is possible?
Of course we do!  Change Management is a discipline that produces amazing results in taking individuals on a journey from awareness of what needs to change, through the process of knowledge acquisition, skills development and behaviour change, to reinforcement of the change through support and encouragement.

When will our justice system recognise that change is possible and start supporting individuals like this young man in the re-integration to society and stop wasting the taxpayers money in prolonging the justice system and antagonising a whole support infrastructure as a result.

Where is the mercy in the justice system?
I recently listened to an episode of desert island disks with John Timpson of the shoe repair store fame.  Having raised their own family, he and his wife have fostered many children over many years and extended this ‘second chance’ approach to offering jobs to young people with criminal records to work in their stores.

They are one of the few employers who are willing to recognise that people can change and that hard lessons learned early in life can result in a determination and desire to work hard and be loyal.

I heard of a recent ‘ban the box’ campaign to give ex-criminals an opportunity to avoid being filtered out at the earliest stages of the employment process by taking the tick-box out of job application forms regarding the declaration of a criminal record.

As the great man Stephen Covey identified as the 4th of his 7 habits – ‘Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.’

As I look back at what the challenges of a misguided 17 year old have cost the taxpayer over the last 15 years of his life as he has tried to pay his dues, it is ridiculous and tragic.  All he really needed was someone to sit him down, listen to his story, give him some advice and support him on his journey .  Instead we use a sledge hammer to crack a nut and destroy lives along the way.

In his own words:
‘I just want out of this circle.  It’s ruined my teens, twenties and I really don’t want to be stuck in it during my thirties.’

Unfortunately it WILL follow him for the rest of his life unless the justice system does recognise that once you have paid your price that the price has been paid.

Christianity does a great job of recognising this principle.  Timpson’s do.  The ban this box campaign does.  We would be well served to adopt this principle in many other aspects of our public and private lives by recognising that change is possible and most desirable for us all.

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