Aged 14 Helen was arrested and received a caution. It was around this time she started binge drinking which began a downwards spiral. Smoking ‘weed’ and drinking heavily at the weekends was pretty much the norm amongst the gang she hung around with and by the time she was 19 a deep depression had overtaken her. She sought help from her GP and received a prescription for anti-depressants, which initially helped. She then began getting as ‘high as a kite’, she became overconfident and argumentative and her weekend drink binges got completely out of control. The depression came and went: 6 months of highs followed by a dark depressive period.
Her first conviction was for drink driving and taking without consent – she ‘borrowed’ her parents’ car. Another drunken incident resulted in a criminal damage conviction when a friend wouldn’t answer the door to Helen. But then came the conviction with the greatest impact: assault on a police constable. She was on a night out, drunk again and angry. She admits that she was being a nuisance. Somebody called the police. When they arrived she resisted arrest and assaulted the police officer by spitting on his arm. Helen doesn’t try to excuse her behaviour but, she can help to explain it by the fact that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder the previous year. She was under the care of a mental health team at the time of her arrest.
“I’m repentant and ashamed about my past and although my criminal record isn’t extensive, it’s affected my self-esteem and mental health, thus impeding my whole life. So, why does my record bother me so much? It’s the conviction for assault that causes me the most problems especially if I’m applying for jobs which require an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check. The word ‘assault’ is so ambiguous and it would be a huge benefit if the DBS could provide more details on my certificate so that employers had a better understanding of what I did. There’s various levels of ‘assault’ and when I explain to an employer that I spat on a PC (not something I’m proud of) I’m not sure that they always believe what I’m telling them, as assault means something very different to them. I’m sure that there are instances where this level of detail would work against some people but perhaps the DBS could make this an ‘optional extra’ on certificates.
My past has not been great but, finally, I’ve decided that I’m not going to allow the rest of my life to be dictated by mistakes made almost a decade ago. I’m a mum now and I’m in full time employment but I know that I want to go back into working with young people.
Let’s hope that the work that’s being done around changing the filtering process pays off and can start to benefit people like me who have more than one conviction. Fair do’s, if you commit an offence you need to be punished but do we really have to be punished for life?”
Notes about this case
- This case relates to Unlock’s policy work on challenging the DBS ‘filtering’ process.
- Helen’s story was originally published on our online magazine, theRecord
- We have practical guidance on filtering of spent cautions/convictions – a simple guide.
- Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
- Other policy cases are listed here.