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Looking back at 2020 – A month-by-month review of developments for people with criminal records

With Christmas nearly here and 2020 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the last 12 months and some of the key moments for people with criminal records.   

It’s certainly been a year like no other, but once again it’s been an incredibly busy year for Unlock, with lots of positive news and progress that benefits people with cautions and convictions. 

As you can see in the month-by-month developments below, there have been some major strides forwards in reforming the criminal records disclosure system. Changes introduced in November to which cautions and convictions show up on higher-level DBS checks will mean over 45,000 people a year will now have a clear DBS check and be free of the stigma of their past. And proposals by the Ministry of Justice to reduce some disclosure periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act are welcomed, although we are calling for the reforms to go further 

But it’s not all been positive either. There continue to be new and extended policies and practices that treat people with criminal records unfairly and punish people long after they’ve served their sentence. And at a time when many people have lost their jobs, now more than ever it’s vital that Unlock continues to work hard to provide support and a voice for people with criminal records, so the charity looks forward to yet another strong year in 2021 –  please help Unlock to continue its vital work 

For the charity itself: 

On a personal note, it was announced earlier this month that after 12 years at Unlock I will be moving on from the charity in early February to take up the role of Director of Support and Development at Clinks. It’s going to feel bittersweet for me to move on from Unlock but I’m incredibly proud of my time at the charity and it has been an absolute privilege to have been co-director of such an amazing and unique charity for the last seven years. The trustee board have decided to take this opportunity to recruit a CEO to help the charity deliver on its next phase of work, so keep an eye out for more details on this. 

On a practical note, our helpline will be closed for the Christmas holidays from 4pm today (Friday 18 December) and will reopen at 10am on Tuesday 5 January 2020. Our information site has details on what to do if you have questions over the festive period.  

In the meantime, on behalf of everyone at Unlock, I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.  

All the best, 

Christopher Stacey  

Some key developments month-by-month 

In January we launched, together with Transform Justice, the #FairChecks movement to help push for a fresh start for the criminal records system. We also launched a collaboration with the University of Nottingham with a funded PhD opportunity to carry out systematic and in-depth analysis of policy and practice around applicants with criminal records across UK universities. And a year after the UK’s highest court found current rules on criminal records checks breach human rights laws, Unlock, Liberty and Just for Kids Law denounced the Government for failing to fix this broken system. 

In February wraised concerns as it was revealed that The Charity Commission has refused more than half of the applications it has received from people with criminal convictions who wish to serve as trustees or senior managers 

In March the Department of Justice (DoJ) in Northern Ireland announced it was making changes to what is disclosed on standard and enhanced criminal record checks, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in January 2019.

In Aprilwe produced some new information which set out the latest information and advice on Covid-19 and how it impacts on those with a criminal record.

In May Nicola Collett, a PhD student at Keele University, wrote about how her research is progressing into the potential influence of a criminal record acquired between the ages of 10-25, later on in adulthood. (She also wrote another update in September)

In June co-director Christopher Stacey shared some thoughts on the current Black Lives Matter protests, the criminal justice system, racial discrimination and the impact of criminal records.

In July the government responded to Supreme Court ruling with plans to change criminal records disclosure regime. We also published a report that highlights potentially hundreds of unlawful criminal record checks by employers each year.

In August new guidance for taxi licensing authorities recommends exclusions for even minor convictions

In September we responded to Ministry of Justice plans to make reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974We also published a joint report with the Prison Reform Trust which found over half of employers would feel more confident hiring people with sexual convictions if they had access to management advice, or if they believed that the applicant wouldn’t reoffend.  

In October we published new information on what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record 

In November, after years of campaigning by Unlock, there was a momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records.  Changes to the law have come into effect, meaning many people will no longer have their old and minor cautions and convictions show up when they apply for jobs or voluntary roles that involve standard or enhanced DBS checks. 

In December we published our full response to the government’s recent white paper proposing amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We also put out a call for evidence as we want to hear from people who were prosecuted for historic gay offences and who have not yet applied for a pardon. Thousands of men still have to live with the fallout from a system which attacked them for their sexuality, and to escape that they are expected to apply to the same government which persecuted them. We are hoping to show that the process of disregards and pardons is unfair and discriminatory. 

Unlock Annual Report 2019-20

We are delighted to publish the Unlock Annual Report 2019-20.

Compiling our report this year was quite a task as we had so much to say about our work and achievements – from developing our trustee board to supporting volunteers, and from providing direct support to individuals to fighting for system change and a society that lets people move on from their past.

It was a remarkable year with many successes despite the arrival of Covid-19. The impact of the pandemic was mitigated as far as possible and we quickly adapted to remote working and continued delivery of our work. Without doubt, people with criminal records now face additional challenges as jobs are lost and new ones hard to find when disclosing a conviction so often means rejection.

For some 45,000 people this will at least be made easier by the change to the ‘filtering rules’ on 28 November, meaning that for jobs and voluntary roles that involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service, childhood cautions will no longer be disclosed, and a rule that meant someone with more than one conviction had all their convictions disclosed, regardless of offence or length of time, has been abolished.

For people who have been held back from employment and volunteering to help others because of mistakes they made years ago, the impact will be life changing.  Unlock along with others have long campaigned for this, fighting the government all the way to the Supreme Court. Many people have written to us to express what it means to them:

“I’ve spent the morning in tears because I’m so overjoyed… I will be forever grateful to Unlock and you for helping me. I cannot believe that from next week I will be able to apply for teaching jobs without the worry of dragging up my childhood traumas… Good luck with the continued fight for a better justice system.” 

 “I would just like to say a huge thank you to everyone there for the life changing work that you all do. You may never fully know just what an impact your work has on peoples’ lives. I will be forever grateful to you and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

There’s much more work to be done to further reform disclosure law along with the other vital work we carry out to enable people to live their best lives. 2020-21 promises to be another busy year ahead.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support, faith and generosity of our funders, donors and volunteers, to whom we extend our sincere gratitude.

Thank you for taking the time to read our 2019-20 annual report

Julie Harmsworth
Co-director

A momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records

Today is a momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records. 

The stigma and embarrassment of a criminal record means many people simply don’t apply for jobs or voluntary roles that would require them to disclose their old and minor convictions or cautions. It’s a toxic form of punishment to keep punishing people forever and far too people many are unnecessarily anchored to their past as a result.  

That’s why today is such a big day. Changes to the law have come into effect, meaning tens of thousands of people every year will no longer have their old and minor criminal records show up when they apply for jobs or voluntary roles that involve standard or enhanced DBS checks . 

There are two main changes to what convictions and cautions are removed from standard and enhanced DBS checks. These are referred to as the filtering rules. 

The first change is that childhood cautions will no longer be automatically disclosed. Up until now, about 25,000 childhood cautions were disclosed every year, so this change will help thousands of people move on from minor things they did when they were a child.  

The second change is that a so-called ‘multiple conviction rule’ is being abolished. This arbitrary rule had meant that people with more than one conviction on their record had them all disclosed, no matter what the offences were, and no matter how long ago they were, simply because there was more than one. From the experience of Unlock’s helpline, we know this rule had meant that lots of people with minor convictions from decades ago were still finding them showing up on their check. According to Home Office data, these changes will mean around 45,000 people a year will now have a clear standard or enhanced DBS check. But this estimate is based on people that had previously applied for checks – and given we know many people are simply put off applying through fear and embarrassment, the number that will benefit from these changes will be even higher still.  

How we got here

It’s been a long road to get to this point. I was part of an independent panel that was set up back in 2010 to advise the Home Secretary on this issue, and the system of filtering that was brought in in 2013 made a difference to a lot of people, but we could see that there were problems, which is why we set about advocating for further change. When it was clear the government were resisting that, it took a number of legal challenges to get them to listen. 

And being honest, it is hard to give the government much credit for bringing forward these changes. They have contested the legal cases all the way up to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. Unlock supported those various legal challenges, and formally intervened in the Supreme Court for the first time in our history, because of the significance of the case. The result was a landmark ruling against the government. Even then, it’s taken the government nearly two years to get to this point of actually making the changes.  

But we are where we are, and I’m genuinely delighted for the thousands of people that have been in contact with us over the years waiting for changes like this to happen. It’s difficult to do justice to the struggles, shame and stigma that they have feltFinally, today is the day when that injustice ends and many thousands of people will be free of the stigma of their past. For every one of you that benefits from today’s changes, I want to thank you for all of the support you have given to Unlock’s work on this over the years.  

Unlock’s guidance for individuals and employers

The changes being made today are actually quite simple, but the rules around what gets disclosed on checks are still quite complicated, so it’s important that you find out what these changes mean for you. We’ve been busy working on updating our guidance for individuals and employersand that is all available from this page of our website. You can:

The need for further reform

But there’s still a lot more to do. Despite today’s changes, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs that they are qualified to do because of a mistake they made years ago. For example, Unlock research found that over a five year period, 380,000 checks contained childhood convictions, with nearly 3,000 checks including convictions from children aged just ten. Many of these childhood convictions will continue to be disclosed forever, despite today’s changes.  

At a time when we’re facing significant economic uncertainty, people with criminal records are finding it harder than ever to find work. The government must commit to a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery. 

That’s why Unlock is continuing to call for a root and branch review of the criminal records system to reduce the length of time a record is revealed. Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone deserves the chance to build a good life. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for you to show your MP that you support reform of the criminal record disclosure system. 

 

 

Settled status – New information on what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record

The EU Settlement Scheme protects the rights you currently have in the UK through the process of applying for settled or pre-settled status. As part of the application process, there are questions about criminal records and checks are carried out by the Home Office. Many people with a criminal record feel nervous about applying and are worried they will be refused.

Today we have published new information about the EU Settlement Scheme for applicants with a criminal record as well as details of organisations that can provide specialist advice. You can read the information here.

For more information

Settled status – New information on what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record

The EU Settlement Scheme protects the rights EU/EEA citizens and their family members currently have in the UK, through the process of applying for settled or pre-settled status. 

As part of the applications process, there are questions about criminal records and checks are carried out by the Home Office. 

It is difficult to give clear information on how the Home Office will treat applications from people with criminal records. We do not know how the Home Office is applying its own guidance so this information cannot tell you categorically what to expect, although the Home Office appears to be taking a very long time to make decisions in many applications from people with criminal records. 

The vast majority of applicants with a criminal record should find their criminal record is not a barrier to settled or pre-settled status. That said, you may still be refused settled or pre-settled status because of the suitability criteria. 

That’s why today we have published information about the EU Settlement Scheme for applicants with a criminal record, as well as details of organisations that can provide specialist advice. You can read the information online 

What you need to know about applying for settled status

  • Having a criminal record should not put you off applying 
  • It’s important to apply as soon as you can. The deadline is 30 June 2021, but you should apply as soon as possible 
  • If you have lived in the UK for five years or more and have no unspent convictions, it is unlikely that your criminal record will be a barrier 
  • If you have unspent convictions, or you have a criminal record and have lived in the UK for less than five years, you should get specialist advice. 

We’ve also published a one-page summary which can be downloaded as a PDF – which organisations providing advice to individuals can use as a way of raising awareness amongst those who need to apply and might be concerned about their criminal record.  

We’re continuing our work on settled statusto help secure the rights of EU nationals to settled status in the UK by ensuring that a criminal record does not unfairly exclude them 

More information

  1. The information is available to read on our information site. 
  2. There is a one-page summary which can be downloaded as a PDF 
  3. You can find out more about our work on settled status  

Our autumn 2020 newsletter – What we’ve been up to

Today we’ve published our autumn 2020 newsletter.

The newsletter provides an update of the news at Unlock in the last three months. It’s sent to everyone who’s on our public mailing list, and we hope it’s a useful way of keeping up to date with what we’ve been up to.

Read: Autumn 2020 Newsletter 

Previous newsletters are available online here. You can receive future newsletters direct to your inbox by signing up to our mailing list.

The Law Society Gazette – White paper promises ‘smarter’ sentencing to cut crime

In this article regarding  the Government’s newly announced sentencing white paper, Christopher Stacey welcomed the proposals to reduce disclosure periods but highlighted the fact that  around two-thirds of the 8,000 people every year who receive sentences of over four years would be excluded from the proposals.

Christopher said: ‘The risk of reoffending is consistently lower for those who have served longer sentences, and data on reoffending by index offence shows sexual and violent offences have lower rates of reoffending than many other categories. Exclusions by offence type risk creating unfairness and anomalies at the margins, further entrenching racial injustice and embedding the idea that some people are inherently incapable of rehabilitation. To genuinely support people striving to turn their lives around through work, all sentences of over four years should be capable of becoming ‘spent’ at some point.’

You can read the full article here.

What is the rationale behind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?

In a week where the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, said that he was preparing a policy that looked at making changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), we’re pleased to publish a paper by Dr Andrew Henley (Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Nottingham) on the rationale behind that piece of legislation.

The paper draws on the research conducted for Dr Henley’s doctoral thesis which examined the conception, passage and contestation of the ROA. Sections of this thesis were based on original archival research and Hansard records which were used to understand the rationale behind the ROA and the motivations of its sponsors.  It is revealed that whilst the architects of the ROA were mindful of the need for exemptions to its provisions, their motives were primarily compassionate and humanitarian, and concerned with the welfare of those who had successfully ‘lived down’ their convictions. They were also concerned with the fact that, in the early 1970s, the UK was out of step with international norms in not having a rehabilitation law.

The paper concludes that the principle of ‘spent convictions’ is now well-established and has been for nearly half a century. Any Government seeking to expanding arrangements so that more people with convictions can benefit from their record becoming ‘spent’ should face an easier task than the original proposers of the ROA given that exemptions to its effect are also well-established on safeguarding ground.  However, it would be quite wrong to reframe the original rationale of the ROA as being about ‘striking a balance’ between protecting the public or businesses from recidivist crime versus the rights of people with convictions to ‘live down’ their past offending.  Concerns with public protection played only a relatively small part in the debates which circulated around the legislation during its passage, given that there was always an intention to include exemptions to the effect of the law for these purposes.  The ROA is, therefore, better understood as motivated by humanitarian concerns and with the need for legislation in the UK to keep pace with that in other countries.

Download the paper here.

Prison philanthropist Edwina Grosvenor talks to Christopher Stacey

Prison philanthropist and prison reformer Edwina Grosvenor talks to Christopher Stacey as part of  her Justice podcast series. They discuss how people often face stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record – long after they have served their sentence. Chris explains that in the UK, I in 6 people have criminal records and how the current system of criminal record checks isn’t fit for purpose – with information being shared with potential employers that isn’t relevant and with wide-spread employment practices are too often grounded in prejudice, causing significant harm to individuals trying to get on with their lives.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

Unlock cautiously welcomes incentives for employers who take on young adults

Unlock welcomes the Chancellor’s summer statement, in particular, incentivising employers to create training placements and apprenticeships for young adults. This age group has been significantly affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – by mid-June, around a third of 18-24 year olds had been furloughed or made redundant.

The ‘Kickstart’ scheme means 16-24 year olds will be able to apply for Government grants to subsidise six-month work placements. In addition, firms taking on new apprentices aged 16 to 24 will receive £2,000, and those hiring new apprentices aged 25 and over will be paid £1,500.

Unlock’s co-director Christopher Stacey said:

These incentives have the potential to set young people on the path to employment. However, government backed schemes must offer opportunities to the most vulnerable young people – care leavers, people of minoritised ethnicity and those in areas hardest hit by the economic downturn. We know from evidence and experience that these young people are more likely to be criminalised and that a criminal record acquired in adolescence can be a life sentence.

 

With that in mind, we hope the scheme will ensure that a criminal record is not a barrier and that employers who benefit from Government subsidy have in place fair recruitment practices.

 

Too often, a criminal record is a barrier to moving on. As we move towards a ‘new normal’ let’s give all young people the chance to make a contribution.

Read about our priorities for government, which includes incentivising employers to recruit people with convictions.

 

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