Employment

Scrap cautions and youth offences from criminal records, say charities

Information offered to employers should be “relevant and recent” rather than focusing on historic convictions, says prison reform charity Transform Justice.

The government is to allow prisoners to undertake apprenticeships in construction and hospitality, but charities say people with convictions shouldn't be limited to work in certain sectors. Image: Jeriden Villegas / Unsplash

Charities are calling for a law change on criminal records with the aim of improving employment opportunities for thousands of people who committed offences when they were young.

A new campaign is asking the government to remove criminal records for cautions, claiming that many people accept cautions during their youth for offences such as shoplifting or graffiti, without realising they carry a criminal record

They also argue that all minor offences should be automatically removed from young people’s record at 18, with the opportunity for more serious offences to be removed later down the line. 

Each year around 10,000 people receive a prison sentence of less than one month, and while this will disappear from a basic criminal record check after a period of time, it will remain on a standard or basic DBS check forever. The campaign argues that people should not be forced to reveal shorter prison sentences – defined as one year or less – to potential employers.  

“Criminal records haunt people long after they have moved on from youthful brushes with the law,” said Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice.

“Everyone deserves a fair chance to move on and contribute to society… The punishment shouldn’t be a lifetime, it shouldn’t appear on an enhanced DBS check forever,” she told the Big Issue. 

Transform Justice and Unlock are warning that 16,000 more people will get a new or extended criminal record as part of the measures to be brought in by the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill. Last month, the government faced a landmark 14 defeats in the House of Lords as peers voted to reject controversial anti-protest measures in the bill. 

The new #FairChecks campaign wants the legislation amended to shorten the time that a conviction stays on a person’s criminal record, saying these “small improvements within the legislation will help some people’s fair chance at a fresh start.”

Anyone who wants to work with children or vulnerable adults must show their potential employer an enhanced DBS check, which will forever reveal any offences that have been committed. 

Asked whether people who have committed violent crimes such as grievous bodily harm should be allowed to work in places such as a nursery, without disclosing their former convictions, Gibbs said that the charity totally supports the existence of a criminal records check system, but the information offered to employers should be “relevant and recent”.

“Anyone who hasn’t offended for a considerable period, such as 10 or 15 years, those previous convictions are not relevant to their current life. People change and move on. The important thing is that employers have access to information about relevant, recent convictions,” she said.

One in six people in England and Wales have a criminal record, according to research conducted by Unlock, a charity that advocates for people with convictions.

“How can we say we believe in rehabilitation when we keep people anchored to their past for decades, even if they’ve never reoffended? We need an urgent overhaul of this outdated and complex system.” said Angela Cairns, CEO of Unlock

Employment of prisoners or ex-convicts has come under the spotlight in recent months as the government has turned to people with convictions to help plug the labour shortages.

“For the first time in a long time, we’ve had more vacancies than we have clients,” Richard Rowley of Working Chance, which is supporting the campaign, told the Big Issue

Working Chance has seen a huge increase in recruitment across sectors that are desperate to hire, but it also believes that employers are placing greater emphasis on the value of a diverse workforce. 

The government recently announced plans to offer prisoners apprenticeships for the first time, in a groundbreaking scheme aiming to cut reoffending rates and help solve labour shortages.

Here’s where to find help if you have a criminal record and are looking for work.

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