In 2021, the Department of Justice launched its Working to Change: Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021 – 2023. The Probation Service, in collaboration with the Irish Prison Service, invited applications from social enterprises in Ireland for Round 3 of the KickStart Fund to support implementation of the Working to Change Strategy under the Dormant Accounts Fund Action Plan 2021.
The objective of KickStart Round 3 is to “support and encourage new and existing social enterprises to create meaningful jobs for people with criminal convictions, as a stepping stone to mainstream employment”
We are delighted to receive funding through this programme to conduct a feasibility study in partnership with Damien Quinn and his Spéire Nua project. Damien has had a troubled youth which resulted in criminal behaviour, addiction and prison. While in prison he took the opportunity to reconnect with education and is an advocate for lifelong learning and for change around systematic barriers for people with convictions.
In Ireland, currently, over half the people that get out of prison end up back in there within the first three years and Damien believes that this is directly linked to a lack of opportunity and an unwillingness of people to engage with those with convictions. He understands the reservations people may have but unless people are afforded a few chances along the way, the revolving door will continue to spin, having a negative impact on those that are trying to change. This also has a negative impact on the communities that they come from. Damien has developed a strong sense of generativity – a desire to give back – and now works in community development in a professional capacity including his voluntary support of Amicitia.
The reality for Damien and many others that have ‘been through the system’ is that the punishment begins when they leave prison. The label of ‘ex-offender’ is far from a positive endorsement for someone that is looking to improve the circumstances that prevailed in their lives by securing opportunity. Every time people with convictions take a positive step, going for a house, to volunteer, to go to school or college, to coach, to secure work, to start their own businesses, to get insurance, to travel, they will have to open up that chapter of their life that they are not very proud of, again and again.
Damien feels that is extremely unfair. Especially for those that have taken all the positive steps to correct their behaviour, to plan for a better future, to get educated and job ready, to make amends and become a fully participating member of society. That is why he feels that we need an additional communication that captures all of the steps out of a life of crime people take. An updated vetting system that offers a current and balanced view of the individual rather than a historical, purely negative and binary view of the individual. Damien believes punishments are fair, just and warranted and he also believes they should come with an end date.
You can explore Damien’s story in more depth on the The Two Norries Podcast.
Amicitia has supported Damien during ideation phase of Spéire Nua which uses a derivative of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) to assess where someone is currently at with regards to moving on from their past behaviour. Prior learning may have been acquired by formal, non-formal or informal routes. This idea originated from Damien’s research for his MSc in Cooperatives and Social Enterprise at UCC and when he studied with Equal Ireland to become a trained RPL practitioner. His dissertation is titled Spéire Nua – Life after Prison for the Reformed Individual – Opportunities or Barriers?
Recently, the Spéire Nua project received seed funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland through their Ideas Academy and they have invited Damien back to take part on The Action Lab and to avail of further support to make his idea a reality. The Kickstart Fund will help to expand on this work and integrate Spéire Nua with the Amicitia project.
Amicitia will act as the host social enterprise and we are committed to providing Damien with a platform to establish Spéire Nua and assist people across the country who wish to disentangle themselves from the consequences of their convictions. Damien has also joined the board of directors at Amicitia to strengthen the partnership and overall governance of the project. We look forward to working with a diverse group of partners on this feasibility study and we will continue to publish findings as we make progress in the coming months.
Banner image credit: Jan Huber