ONCE considered one of Britain’s most dangerous criminals, Bobby Cummines is an adviser to the British government and recipient of an OBE from the queen.
Head of a charity representing offenders, the 60-year-old is in Ireland to back calls to give released prisoners a second chance by wiping clear their criminal records, thereby allowing them to apply for jobs.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter plans to publish a Spent Convictions Bill this July, which proposes to do this for prisoners sentenced to six months or less.
While welcoming the bill in principle, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) believes this doesn’t go far enough and want it to at least match Britain, where the limit is set at 30 months.
“If you commit a crime you should serve a sentence for that crime, but what’s happening is that the sentence is carrying on when you come out and that’s not right,” said Mr Cummines, whose parents hail from Ireland.
“After a period you should be able to go in front of a tribunal, prove you’ve lived crime-free for X amount of years and the slate is wiped clear.
“If we don’t welcome them back into our society, there is another society that will welcome them back with open arms and that’s the criminal society.”
When he was 16, Mr Cummines was one of the youngest people to be convicted of possessing a sawn-off shotgun. His time in juvenile detention progressed his criminal career and after failing to get work on his release, he became a member of an organised crime gang, involved in armed robberies, intimidation and protection rackets.
By 22, he was the head of the gang. Six years later, he was convicted for a combination of manslaughter, bank robberies and firearms offences and sentenced to 20 years in what he described as Britain’s Alcatraz — Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.
He said his life was turned around by an education officer and a probation officer, who got him into study.
“I did an Open University degree, in psychology and sociology. I got the bug for learning. Education was my liberation.”
But when he got out he couldn’t get any jobs. He had to lie to get menial work, before securing a job in a housing association. He later became chief executive of Unlock, an association for reformed offenders.
He addressed a public seminar last night organised by the IPRT. Also there was Ciaran, who was sentenced to six years for supplying €500,000 worth of cannabis in Dublin in 2001.
He did his Leaving Certificate in prison and, on release, got onto the Access Programme in Trinity College and went on to do a degree in Social Science. He is now doing a post-graduate course.
“I’m grateful to have the qualifications and my fees paid, but I can’t apply for any job because of my conviction. The judge sentenced me. I was guilty and had to be punished, but it shouldn’t be a life sentence.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved