Skip to main content

Our mission is to support & advocate for people with criminal records to be able to move on positively in their lives. Find out more

New research into impact of childhood criminal records and launch of campaign








A child who has offended in England and Wales is shackled to the mistakes of their past by a criminal record system which is punitive, and holds them back from reaching their full potential, according to a report released today by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ).

The report, which reviews criminal record systems in over a dozen countries, finds England and Wales to be an outlier in the extent to which it ties children to past offending.

“A child in England and Wales is not only more likely to acquire a criminal record, but this record will affect them for longer, and more profoundly, than in any of the countries reviewed”

said Penelope Gibbs, Chair of the SCYJ.

“A child who has shoplifted a couple of times will suffer the disproportionate penalty of not only having the offences recorded for life, but also having to disclose it at key points – such as entering university or applying for certain jobs, such as a teacher, or a police officer. No other country reviewed inflicts such tough penalties on a child who offends.”

The far reaching effects on a child go well beyond their sentence. Children with a criminal record face stigma and discrimination in accessing education, training, employment, travel and housing and these obstacles can follow a child into adulthood impacting adversely on their life chances and their ability to reintegrate positively in to society.

In 2013/14 over 60,000 cautions and convictions – all with criminal record implications – were handed out to children in England and Wales. These records will have to be disclosed for many years, and some forever.

The SCYJ is launching a campaign today calling for radical reform of the law on childhood criminal records. Its recommendations include shorter rehabilitation periods, expanding the current filtering system, and wiping the slate clean after ten years.

Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, in supporting SCYJ’s campaign for reform, said:

“There are over 10.5 million people in the UK with a criminal record, with the vast majority of these being obtained when people are young. Every day we’re contacted by people who are facing stigma and discrimination because of offences they committed when they were under 18. This directly impacts on children’s chances long into adulthood, often for the rest of their lives.”


“Children that commit crime need to be rehabilitated and our youth justice system is supposed to be specifically designed to not impose retributions. However, when it comes to criminal records, the system treats children in a very similar way to adults.”


“There are many parts to the criminal record disclosure system that are disproportionate and unnecessary. A specific attempt to ensure that criminal records do not blight the lives of children is long-overdue. That’s why we’re actively supporting the campaign launched today. The recommended changes would result in a fairer and more calibrated system.”


More information

  1. More information about the report and campaign can be found on the SCYJ website.
  2. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) is a membership body, representing over fifty organisations, campaigning for a better youth justice system. They pool the expertise of their members to work on issues surrounding children in trouble with the law. Their work focuses on policy and legislation affecting all aspects of the youth justice system and young people caught up in it – from policing to resettlement.
  3. Unlock is supporting this campaign as part of our policy and campaign work.
  4. More information about Unlock’s policy work on the DBS filtering process.
  5. Unlock press/media enquiries.


Add Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

Do you need help & support with an issue you’re facing?

We provide support and advice for people in England and Wales who need guidance with either their own, or someone else’s, criminal record.

Please use the search box to start typing your issue. If you cannot find an answer to your problem then you’ll be given options to contact us directly.

Find out more about the helpline

We want to make sure that our website is as helpful as possible.

Letting us know if you easily found what you were looking for or not enables us to continue to improve our service for you and others.

Was it easy to find what you were looking for?

Thank you for your feedback.

12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

Help support us now