User Voice Launches New Work Experience Initiative For Britain’s Young Offenders And Shows That Life Really Is For Sharing

User Voice Launches New Work Experience Initiative For Britain’s Young Offenders And Shows That Life Really Is For Sharing


19 May 2009

User Voice has just launched a new initiative to give invaluable work experience to young ex-offenders and marginalised individuals. The aim is to motivate and encourage young people who have more often than not been excluded from society and to show them an alternative side to life to the one they have so far experienced.

The first collaboration was between User Voice and Saatchi & Saatchi, London and saw ex-offenders David Brown, 22, and Chris Smith*, 16, – not “yet” in custody but known to the local criminal justice agencies – working on the new T-Mobile advertising campaign, ‘Sing-along’, that culminated in more than 13,500 people being filmed singing karaoke in Trafalgar Square.

But there was no sorting of the stationery cupboard on the agenda. Instead, they were included in as much of the sharp end of the production of the advert as possible: technical ‘recces’ at Trafalgar Square, pre-production meetings with top marketing people from various European countries, creative meetings about the event and so on.

Mark Johnson, founder of User Voice, strongly believes that this type of opportunity demonstrates a very different and more productive solution to Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw’s latest initiative of ‘shaming’ offenders.

It’s easy to demonise young people with criminal records but Saatchi & Saatchi have chosen to be constructive instead. They’ve shown two excluded and offending young people that there’s a world beyond the council estate. For the first time these lads have been included. They’ve risen to the challenge and effortlessly demolished any preconceptions that people might have about disadvantaged youngsters. Thanks to Saatchi & Saatchi for giving them a chance to show their talent. It’s been sheer pleasure watching them grow.

From prison cell and council estate, David and Chris’s lives have been changed for the better by the experience. It has pushed open the door to a new future for two young people and for other companies brave enough to invest time and effort in helping and encouraging marginalised young people.

The effects of the initiative have been inspirational. David and Chris both kept diaries. On his third day of his week’s work experience, Chris wrote:

Today I’ve had the idea of staying on at Sixth form which is something I have never had before but seeing how interesting all these Jobs are makes me feel like it’s stupid not to try my hardest and maybe getting one of these jobs someday. On the step outside Saatchi & Saatchi it says “Nothing is Impossible”. This doesn’t seem that far from the truth now.

Later he says:

My life is so far away from this I can probably say it’s impossible for me to explain or for you to understand and be in the same level as me.

User Voice’s new initiative represents a positive alternative to the future the Ministry of Justice had predicted for Chris and particularly David. Their figures show that within two years of release from prison 65% re-offend – and rises to 75% among young offenders. On the flip side however, The Home Office calculates that employment on release from prison reduces the risk of reoffending by between a third and a half, demonstrating the importance and effectiveness of campaigns such as this one.

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For further information about Mark Johnson and User Voice please contact Daniel Hutt at User Voice on 020 7968 2740

Editors’ Notes:

About Mark Johnson

Ex offender and drug addict, author of the bestseller ‘Wasted’. Daily Mirror Pride of Britain and The Prince’s Trust Young Achiever of the Year Awards, Mark is a former Special Advisor to the Prince’s Trust and National Probation Service and now a national and international consultant on the criminal justice system. He writes a regular column for Society Guardian and contributes to The Big Issue.

About Chris Smith

(*names have been changed for confidentiality)

Chris is 16 and in year eleven at a school in Kidderminster and was given special dispensation by the Head of School to do work experience at Saatchi & Saatchi. He is taking his GCSE’s this summer. It is anticipated he will leave with few or no qualifications. Following his work placement, Chris now hopes to stay on into Sixth Form, though he says “it may already be too late.”

About David Brown

(*names have been changed for confidentiality)

Richard is 22 and has recently completed a 6 year, 9 month prison sentence for non-violent crime. After 6 months on his friends’ sofa he has now found his own flat and hopes to do an apprenticeship in the North of England.