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Unlock’s annual report 2020/21

Each year we publish our annual report and accounts – which you can read in full on the Charity Commission’s website. In a year like no other, we’re proud that we continued to grow and develop our support, policy work and advocacy for people with criminal records. We’re also incredibly grateful to all the funders, individual donors and volunteers who support our work. Below is a summary of what we achieved in the year 2020-21.

Download the summary as a PDF

 

 

Want to ‘fix’ labour shortages? Start seeing the person, not their past

Last week, Dominic Raab called for employers to recruit people in and leaving prison to help plug the skills gap in an array of sectors, from haulage to hospitality. The Secretary of State rightly recognises this is a group of people who are unemployed and underemployed. In encouraging employers to give people a fair chance to get a job, the government is taking steps – albeit baby ones – to change the narrative around employing people with criminal records.  

Whilst we welcome these signs of change from government, they need to translate into more than just words of encouragement. A secure job, somewhere to live and support from family and friends are key to anyone living a positive life. Yet people with criminal records face challenges to this; long periods where they have to disclose their record to employers, housing providers and insurance companies – and even once a conviction is spent, someone’s past can resurface at the click of a Google search button.  When half of employers admit they would discriminate against someone with a criminal record, this matters.

Recent announcements from the government do nothing to address the barriers that stand between the almost 12 million people with a criminal record and a normal life. If we’re serious about getting people back into the workforce and into society, we need to make fundamental changes to a system that leaves people trapped in their past.  

We can’t view people as simply disposable assets who are rolled out at a time of crisis. People with criminal records are not part of a reserve army of labour. Nor will they all necessarily be able to work in an abattoir, drive an HGV lorry or make you the perfect coffee. But everyone deserves the chance of a job, a safe place to live and a sense of connection to their community.  

At Unlock, we want people to be employed because of their skills, experience and ability first and foremost. For this to happen, society needs to believe in rehabilitation, to believe that people can and do change. We need a criminal records disclosure system which is not unnecessarily punitive and arbitrary.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going currently going through parliament goes a small way to reducing the time periods some people will have to disclose their criminal record, but it doesn’t go far enough. As we continue to campaign for further change, we ask employers to make a difference by seeing the person first – and recognising that in most cases, there is no need to ask someone about their criminal record before you meet them.  

If you’re an employer and want to find out more about criminal records and fair recruitment, visit our Recruit website.

Criminal records webinar Wednesday 12 January 2022

Do you deal with criminal records in your work? You might be helping people with convictions who are applying for jobs, or working in recruitment/HR and making hiring decisions or carrying out DBS checks.  

If any of these apply to you, book a place and join us on Wednesday 12 January 2022 for our webinar on understanding the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the disclosure of criminal records. 

The criminal records system in England and Wales is complex and often confusing. There are over 11 million people with a criminal record. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is a piece of legislation that sets out when convictions become ‘spent’, and it’s important to know the difference between unspent and spent convictions and when they need to be disclosed.  


When and where?
 

Wednesday 12 January 2022, 2-4pm, Online
(Please join at 1.45pm to begin promptly at 2pm – thank you) 

Price: £49 (if booked before 1 December, normal price £59) 

Price includes a course pack with materials and useful resources which will be sent to you before the webinar. 

Places are limited, so book now to guarantee your place. If you wish to be notified on any future webinars, please email admin@unlockorg.uk 

Who is it for? 

The webinar is aimed at anyone who deals with criminal records in their work. You might be helping people with convictions who are applying for jobs, or you might be working in recruitment/HR and making hiring decisions or carrying on DBS checks. 

What it will cover

  • The levels of DBS criminal record check and what they disclose 
  • How individuals can find out about their criminal record 
  • The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and spent convictions 
  • The filtering rules and protected cautions/convictions 
  • Good practice in asking about criminal records for employment and volunteering 

To find out more and to book, visit our Eventbrite page. 

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If you have any questions, email admin@unlock.org.uk. 

This webinar is part of the training that we provide. 

Reflections of an Unlock helpline volunteer

The first week of June is Volunteer Week – when charities across the country say thank you and showcase the amazing work of their committed volunteers. We asked one of our brilliant helpline volunteers to share their experiences of working with us. In this blog our volunteer (who we’re keeping anonymous to protect their privacy) shares their reflections on what volunteering has meant to them, and the impact of the last year on people with criminal records.

In 2019, having been in a profession I loved for the last ten years, I had to resign from my job as someone in the company found out about my historic conviction that was 12 years old at the time. Even though the relevant people already knew about it when I started, I still had to resign for the safety of my family.   

With no job I landed at the door of the Job Centre and the debacle that was Universal Credit, with a job coach that did not know what to do with me, we just went through the usual process. Being on the job scrap heap I decided to see what was out there I could do, and decided to see if there was any volunteer work I could do. I had always known about Unlock as I had used their helpline in the past, so when I saw on their website they were looking for volunteers, I sent off my application.  

Having successfully completed the interview I started as soon as I could, it was a weight off my shoulders to finally work for an organisation that did not care about my past and saw me for the skills and abilities I could bring to the organisation. For the first time in a long time I was not having to continually look over my shoulder worrying that someone from my past might recognise me.  

Before being let loose full training was given in all aspects of subjects that come across the helpline, and training on how to answer enquires that are received. What I found important was that you were not just thrown in the deep end and made to swim; the training was at the pace of the person undertaking it. Once my training was completed I started off answering emails and letters under supervision, then once I had accomplished this I moved onto the telephone. With my first day taking calls fast approaching the butterflies in my stomach were doing cart wheels, but with the training and support that was given by experienced team members these butterflies soon passed.   

This role has been extremely thought provoking. While offering advice and guidance to not only people with criminal records but also external stakeholders, it has made me realise how much support is required and how much at times the help is not there for individuals, and how many individuals face disadvantage and discrimination.  

While assisting on the charity’s helpline I have also assisted in a number of research tasks, including looking at housing policies of councils within the UK and how they affect a person with a criminal conviction.  

This insight along with the skills and knowledge I have gained in offering advice and guidance to people that contact the charity has made me see how important advocating for change is, and the job that we do helps a sector of society that is greatly penalised by the communities they live within.   

The skills and abilities I have gained have come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. The learning curve increased greatly in having to undertake remote working to ensure with other staff members that the helpline has been fully active and contactable to the public. This has included tracking criminal justice and Government websites for changes in legislation announced during the lockdown, for instance identifying changes to security vetting procedures and also the impact a person under ROTL has dealt with the implementation of the furlough scheme, and ensuring that this is correctly communicated.  

My work on the helpline continues as we get ready to return back to the office, and reflecting back I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given in learning new skills and abilities and will continue to volunteer for a long as I can. When volunteering you feel you have a purpose in life, when most other people turn their back on you. There is a great satisfaction when you realise that you have helped someone and you can hear in their voice or through the tears over the phone how much the advice and guidance you have given them has made such an impact on their life and helped in the problem they have called you about.  

 

Introducing our new CEO: Angela Cairns

We’re delighted to announce that experienced charity leader Angela Cairns will be the charity’s new Chief Executive, and will take up the role on Monday 17 May. 

Angela joins Unlock after five years as CEO of the criminal justice charity Shannon Trust. She has worked in the voluntary sector since 2002, supporting people to bring about positive change in their lives. Specialised in leading small organisations that punch above their weight, Angela has a strong track record in organisational development, frontline delivery and advocating for change. She is passionate about bringing the voices of people experiencing discrimination and disadvantage to the forefront of debate. 

Having recently celebrated the charity’s 21st birthday and launched an ambitious new strategy for the next five years, it’s an exciting time to welcome Angela’s energy, passion and expertise to the organisation.  

Mark Rowe, Chair of Trustees at Unlock, said: 

“Everyone at Unlockis delightedthat Angela is joining Unlock at this exciting time for the charity. She brings a wealth of leadership experience from her previous charity and criminal justice sector roles. She will be a hugely valuable asset for Unlock as we build on our successes to date and begin to deliver our ambitious new strategic planto continue support our beneficiaries.” 

Angela said: 

“I’m delighted to be joining the fantastic team at Unlock as we roll out a new five-year strategy. Together we will continue bringing about positive change with and for people with criminal records who are effectively serving a second sentence.” 

Our Spring 2021 newsletter

Today we’ve published our Spring 2021 newsletter.

The newsletter provides an update of the news at Unlock in the last three months, and we hope it’s a useful way of keeping up to date with what we’ve been up to.

Read: Spring 2021 newsletter

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

Happy 21st Birthday Unlock!

This year Unlock celebrates its 21st birthday, which we’re marking on the same day we publish our ambitious new strategic plan for 2021-26. Alongside the new strategy, we’re launching our new strapline: ‘for people with criminal records‘. We’ve chosen to do this because – although a subtle change to our language – we believe it’s the most inclusive way to talk about the people we exist to help.

From the very beginning Unlock has been led by the experiences and expertise of people with criminal records, and our new strategy is no exception. The priorities we’ve set out have been guided by what people with criminal records have suggested we should focus on. Although the Covid-19 pandemic meant we had to get creative in how we did this, we were still able to engage with over 200 individuals to get their input into our future priorities, nearly 80% of whom were people with criminal records, and the remaining 20% were family, friends and professionals supporting them.

Our vision is of a fair and inclusive society where people with criminal records are free from stigma, prejudice and discrimination. The priorities and activities set out in our new strategy will help us to get there. Find out more about how we’re measuring our progress.

We’re excited about where we’re going, and proud of where we’ve come from. Throughout the day we’ll be sharing kind birthday messages from some of the people we’ve been proud to work with and support over the years – follow along on Twitter @unlockcharity and make sure you join our mailing list for all the latest news from Unlock.

 

 

 

An insight into Northern Ireland’s consultation on spending periods

The Northern Irish government has just completed their initial consultation on changing spending periods for criminal offences, spurred by a judicial review brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). While that is outside of Unlock’s normal catchment area, we have been following the case closely and working with our colleagues at NIACRO to try and make the most of this opportunity for change.

While any real changes in Northern Ireland are still some way off, this is a good opportunity to talk about the nature of government consultations, and what we can learn from Northern Ireland.

The biggest take away is that strategic litigation really is an effective tool in creating change, and vindicates Unlock’s goal to continue using it. The NIHRC case is extremely meaningful in its own right, but even before the arguments have been heard Stormont have rushed to address some of the concerns. Whatever decision is reached, this one case will result in meaningful changes that impact thousands of people. This is extremely encouraging, and Unlock was happy to support the NIHRC case.

Next, the policy options that the Northern Irish government consulted on were an interestingly mixed bag. Northern Ireland hasn’t had a significant change for spending periods since 1978, and Stormont is not required to follow along with England and Wales, so it’s understandable they have come up with their own options – but they were still a bit odd.

They did offer two possible reforms to address concerns about longer sentences never becoming spent. However, each one was only half of the proposed version in England and Wales. Option one was to simply raise the threshold for a sentence that can’t become spent from two and a half to four years. This update would match the present England and Wales system, but not include any changes from the sentencing bill.

The other proposal was to allow some longer sentences to become spent, depending on the conviction – but offences classified as violent, sexual or terrorism related would still have to be disclosed for life if the sentence was longer than two and a half years.

The proposed version in England and Wales is to use a list of offences and a longer threshold for lifelong spending, and it was not initially clear why Stormont would break these two aspects apart. If they were going to follow the England and Wales system, it would make more sense to copy it fully. However, Unlock sat in on some of the Department of Justice’s feedback sessions, and it seems that the concern for the civil servants is drawing up reforms that can be actually be passed through parliament.

To some degree that is disappointing, because a really ambitious set of reforms seems unlikely. At the same time, we do need to stay grounded to this reality. Reforms are unlikely to go as far as we might like, and both MPs and the general public might well be less well informed than we might hope. However, positive reforms are still positive, and we should be aiming to make them happen. It might not be ideal, but changes that actually happen help more people than those which are too radical to be accepted.

Another interesting factor in Northern Ireland is that certain terms have a different meaning, highlighting that language can be much more politicised than we might think. In England and Wales, ‘terrorism’ is a little contentious but in Northern Ireland that is an extremely emotive term, with decades of history and injustice behind it. We don’t even have to leave the UK to see that the question of who exactly is a terrorist is not easily answered.

This is even more relevant because most conflict-related convictions are really quite old at this point, and so would immediately become spent if they were ever eligible. That means that charging decisions made in the 1960s would come back to haunt the justice system yet again, with questions about unequal application of the law to different communities.

This same effect is just as true with the other categories of offences that will be exempt from becoming spent. What is a violent crime? And what is a sexual offence? In Northern Ireland the Department of Justice at least intend to write a new list to address this, which is something. In England and Wales, the government are proposing to use a pre-existing list drawn from 20 year-old legislation. Again, you do not have to travel far to see how these dodgy definitions will cause problems, and may create systematic injustices.

The flurry of activity in Northern Ireland is a microcosm of what we are seeing in Westminster, and helps to show how even relatively small differences actually become huge concerns for this area of law. Simple rules that reduce the length of spending periods are clearly better than the periods we have at the moment – both in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland – but we can already see the difficulties in applying them on a large scale.

It seems increasingly clear that whatever changes are made to either system in the coming year, there is going to be a lot more work to do. We are seeing more and more that very broad categories just don’t work well and that we need a real paradigm shift. Creating an independent review mechanism seems the obvious first step, although few politicians ever want answers that will cost them money.

Unlock will continue to push for these changes until all people with criminal records the chance to live a normal life. It may be a hard fight, but we do believe it can be won.

Written by Sam Doohan, Policy Officer for Unlock.

 

Further reading

  1. NIHRC challenge spending law
  2. Department of Justice consultation
  3. NIACRO’s website

New report highlights impact of criminal records on women

While women overall are less likely to have a criminal record than menthose women who do are more likely to face barriers when accessing employment according to the report, Angels or witches”: The impact of criminal records on women, published on International Women’s Day by Unlock. 

The report, which brings together the voices and experiences of women with criminal records alongside data on employment and criminal record checks, highlights the need for dedicated strategies to address the post-conviction problems women face.  

The vast majority of women surveyed as part of the research (86%) cited employment as a problem, with 63% saying it was the biggest problem they faced. One woman said:

“I’ve been struggling to get work. I can’t work in finance or admin roles for local government like I did previously as I need an enhanced DBS. I now work in low paid cleaning jobs but struggle to find cleaning work as all school cleaners, doctors surgeries need enhanced DBS checks.”  

By analysing data on the number of criminal record checks that disclosed convictions, the researchers found that, although less likely than men to have a criminal record, women are almost twice as likely to have their criminal records disclosed on a DBS check. One possible explanation for this is the higher level of checks required for traditionally female-dominated roles, such as care work and education. 

Over half of women surveyed felt that being a woman made their post-conviction problems worse, with many citing additional stigma face by women with convictions. One respondent said: 

Women are still treated as either angels or witches, there is no in between. Women with convictions are demonised in ways that men never have been 

What is also clear in the report is that for many women, their convictions exist alongside significant trauma; nearly two thirds (59%) of women surveyed reported having experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives. A tenth said they had been a sex worker at some point in their lives, and 31% had experienced addiction or substance misuse. And yet there is a dangerous lack of support or understanding to enable these women to move on positively in their lives – they are simply handed the stigma that comes with a criminal record. 

Dr Rachel Tynan, Practice and Policy Lead at Unlock, said:

“These findings clearly demonstrate that women face specific barriers and challenges because of their criminal record – and that these aren’t properly understood. That’s why we’re calling on the government to conduct a full root and branch review of the criminal records system, including the proportionality and impact on women and people with other protected characteristics.  

“We also need to see a dedicated employment strategy that recognises and responds to the specific challenges faced by women leaving prison and on probation. If women are being locked out of the jobs they have trained for because of minor convictions, how are they supposed to make a positive contribution to society?”

This report was produced as part of Unlock’s Unlocking Experience project. Find out more about the project and the previous two reports, focussed on the experiences of young people and BAME people with criminal records. Our thanks to Barrow Cadbury Trust for funding this work.

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