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Have you been through the criminal justice system? Have you got a story to share?

For over 10 years, our online magazine, theRecord has given people with a criminal record a place to share their stories.

Starting out as a monthly newsletter, theRecord has grown a lot since those early days. It shares the experiences of people with cautions and convictions – both good and bad.

From the articles we receive, we know that having a criminal record need not be the end of the world and for some, it can be an opportunity to start something new; a university course, a new job or possibly a new business.

It’s important that people facing barriers because of a criminal record are given hope and inspiration for the future, knowing that it is possible to have a life after a conviction. It’s also important for those struggling with obstacles and discrimination to know that they’re not alone.

If you feel that your criminal record is adversely affecting you, then theRecord can provide a platform for you to share your experience.

So, let’s use our stories to encourage and support one another.

We don’t just want to hear the good news but also the obstacles and hurdles that you’re facing.

You can find out more about contributing to theRecord here. If, you’re ready to share something now, please email your contribution to

Koestler Awards 2021 – Open for entries

The 2021 Koestler Awards for art in criminal justice settings is now open.

There are 52 categories to choose from including the Themed Category “Together”. Every entrant will receive a certificate with many winners getting a cash prize (of between £20 and £100).

Every entry is in with a chance of being selected for the Koestler Arts annual exhibition which this year, will be back in it’s usual gallery in the autumn at the Southbank Centre in London.

The closing date for entries is Thursday 22 April 2021, so there’s no time to loose.

For guidance notes and an application form, please visit the Koestler Arts website.

Changes to filtering rules – Will you still need to disclose your criminal record?

On the 30 January 2019, the Supreme Court directed the government to fix the broken Disclosure and Barring Service system.

The Supreme Court ruled that two aspects of the filtering regime – as it applied to multiple convictions and childhood cautions – was disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Unlock intervened in that case and we were pleased to hear last week the government announce that it intended to fully comply with the Supreme Court ruling on filtering.

The planned changes will remove the automatic disclosure of:

  • youth cautions, reprimands and warnings (an out of court disposal issued to young offenders that were replaced by youth cautions in 2013); and
  • all spent convictions where the individual has more than one conviction (except where disclosed under the other rules).

We believe that the changes are the first step towards achieving a fairer system that takes a more balanced approach towards disclosing criminal records.

You can read our response to the governments plans, and find out more about the impact these changes will have on you; there’s also a brief guide available to download.

We will be updating this page regularly so keep a look out for new information. Alternatively, sign up to our mailing list to receive regular updates.

More information

Need some support in these testing times? Why not join Unlock’s online forum?

As a way of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has been challenged to undertake self-isolation and social distancing. Although we all appreciate why it’s so important to reduce the spread of the infection, for many this will be a particularly stressful and isolating time.

Humans are social animals and isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s so important to stay connected as best we can.

For many years, Unlock has run an online forum, specifically for people with a criminal record. We’ve always considered it to be a great way for people to connect over their shared experiences and, it’s an ideal place to ask a question and get a range of clear and varied responses.

But, it’s also a community where people can swap ideas, share stories, get moral support and create a sense of belonging.

So if you feel that you could benefit from being able to share your experiences and receive some online support then why not join theForum today.

Debbie Sadler, Advice Manager at Unlock

Help us plan our future work

As a small charity rooted in the experiences of people with a criminal record, it’s really important that our work is shaped by the needs of the people that we exist to help.

We are developing our plans for Unlock’s work in the next few years. We want to make sure that they reflect what people with criminal records want and need from us. Let us know your views through this short survey. Every single response will help shape Unlock’s plans for the future.

Complete the survey here.

This year, we come to the end of our current strategic plan. Strategy can sometimes feel detached from the day to day experiences of people dealing with the effects of a criminal record. That’s why we want to hear your thoughts about what we should focus on over the next few years. A lot has changed since the planning of our current strategy that started in 2015 and we want to use this opportunity to have a really good look at:

  1. what the problems people face are
  2. what we think we can do about them
  3. what our objectives are
  4. how we’re going to achieve them

The end result will be a plan that is both ambitious and realistic, where we’re clear on our purpose, our objectives and how we plan to achieve them.

We’ve put together a set of questions so we can find out what matters to you. The answers are completely confidential, although there’s an option at the end to sign up to learn more about the next steps of this work and get involved in other ways.

We’re using Google Forms to collect responses to this survey. No personal details are required, and all responses are completely confidential. We will store survey responses safely and securely on our systems. Find out more about how we look after your data in our privacy policy.

As a way of saying thank you, we’re offering a £25 Love2Shop voucher to one randomly selected person who provides an email address when completing the survey before Friday 28th February 2020.

Complete the survey here.

Are you female and have a criminal record? We want to hear from you!

A criminal record can be a real obstacle in getting on in life. What we don’t know is whether women face additional barriers that men don’t.



Last year, we published a report (A life sentence for young people) that looked at the specific problems people face from criminal records they acquired in their youth. In July this year, we published a report (Double discrimination?) that focused on the impact of criminal records as perceived by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Now we want to understand the structural barriers women face in terms of their criminal record.

Although our focus is mainly on the issues that women have faced after they’ve received their criminal record, we’re also keen to identify any issues that might relate to earlier on in the process that had an impact later on in terms of the criminal record and its consequences.

We’re keen to hear from women with every type of criminal record – so whether you’ve been fined, spent time in prison, had a caution or spent time on probation, we want to hear from you about the problems your criminal record has caused for you.

We also want to hear from practitioners and organisations that have experience in this area.

Your answers will be treated in confidence and will directly inform our recommendations for structural and practical changes. These recommendations will be shared with people who have the power to make things better.

So what do we want to know?

We’ve put together an online survey for women with a criminal record – it should only take about 15 minutes, all responses will be confidential and no personal details shared externally. You can read our full privacy policy on our website.

You can fill out the online survey here.

There’s also an option to put your email address if you’re happy for us to contact you about your response.

We’re also keen to have contributions from practitioners and organisations that work with women. These can be emailed to

The survey will close at 5pm on Monday 30th September.

Thank you for your support.

More information

This work is part of our Unlocking Experience project.

Baking the world a better place! Bringing about social change and reducing the stigma of a criminal record via a bakery business

As we all know, securing a job with a criminal record can be extremely difficult and those thinking about self-employment can often be held back by a lack of funding and sometimes the confidence to go it alone. Having recently come across The Barker Baker, I was amazed to discover that the company came about as a result of a course run by the Probation Service together with the passion and motivation of somebody who wanted to bring about social change and reduce the stigma of having a criminal record. Here’s The Barker Baker’s story.

Approximately 5 years ago Francesca received an 18 month suspended sentence for a fraud offence and began her supervision sessions with her probation officer. She attended the various courses she was expected to do but, unlike a lot of the usual courses offered by probation, Francesca was introduced to a course being run by Virtuous Bread.

Virtuous had received funding from Ex Cell and the Hope Foundation to teach six individuals, being supervised by probation the essentials of setting up a micro bakery. Francesca was one of six selected to go on the course.

After completing the course, Francesca knew that baking was her future. After setting up a crowdfunding page she managed to raise £467 from people all over the UK and so began her baking business. She bought mixing bowls, flour, a folding table, a gazebo, a table cloth and a clapped out vintage suitcase. Once fully kitted out she booked a space at her first market and very quickly sold out of all the items she’d taken. Francesca explained:

“Everyone loved the bread, loved my story and appreciated the hard work I was putting in to get back on my feet. Baking my first loaves of bread gave me a sense of pride and a sense of purpose”.

Francesca began selling her bread at markets all over Greater Manchester and began taking orders from customers. She soon had back to back bookings for months on end and from the markets, came wholesale and internet orders through her website.

The next major step came with opening of her first shop, The Barker Baker. Talking about the opening, Francesca said:

“We had the most incredible start to the business, selling out daily and being welcomed by the local community. We had everyone in the shop, from people who’d lived in the village for 70 years, to young couples wanting something to go with their evening meal. It was everything I wanted it to be.

One day we offered everything we had for free, asking customers to make a donation to charity. We raised a great sum of money which we were able to give to Mind.”

In addition to the shop, Francesca now teaches baking workshops across the country with youth offending teams, probation services, women’s groups and prisons. She’s determined to share her story and her passion and help people to shape their own futures. For Francesca, The Barker Baker isn’t just about bread, the baking is therapeutic and was the stepping stone that allowed her to feel normal, to feel free and to feel good at something.

“This time five years ago I was on police bail awaiting my court date to find out what would happen to me. Today I’m sat in my shop, my bakery, doing paperwork, ordering stock, organising staff rota’s.”

The focus of The Barker Baker has always been about bringing social change and reducing the stigma of a criminal record and Francesca is as determined as ever to give others a second chance.

Since setting up the business, Francesca has won several national business awards including the coveted Best Female Entrepreneur Award 2014 and Business Newcomer of the Year Award 2015.

You can read more about Francesca and her business in the Manchester Evening News or by watching an interview she gave to National Prison Radio.



Useful links

  1. Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this page by commenting below
  2. Information – We have some practical self-help information on self-employment
  3. Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum

Is ‘sealing’ criminal records the best way to help people turn their lives around?

Following David Lammy’s review of disproportionality in the criminal justice system, the spotlight is rightly on how to address the embedded inequalities and discriminatory practices that are driving the over-representation of black and minority ethnic groups.

As part of this though, he has recognised the broader significant negative impact that the current criminal records disclosure regime has on people’s chances of finding work after they’ve turned their lives around. Referring to it as a ‘second sentence’ in his open letter to the Prime Minister, David Lammy highlights how ‘one of the most significant barriers to any ex-offenders’ prospects of employment is created by public policy: the criminal records regime.’ It locks people with convictions out of the labour market and has a considerable financial cost to society through out-of-work benefits.

It is undoubtedly in desperate need of reform.

As Lammy says, ‘people can change quickly but their criminal record does not’. It unnecessarily anchors people to their past, and young adults in particular can find a criminal record holding them back at the key period in their working lives. At the launch of his report, Lammy spoke about how people ‘need a chance to take responsibility for their own lives’.

Despite recognising the importance of the ‘ban the box’ campaign (that deals with when criminal record checks are made during the recruitment process), he tackles what he regards as ‘the bigger question of whether criminal records are relevant and need to be disclosed as often as the current system prescribes’. He concludes that ‘our criminal records regime is making work harder to find for those who need it the most. The system is there to protect the public, but is having the opposite effect if it sees ex-offenders languishing without jobs and drawn back into criminality.’

So what does Lammy recommend on criminal records?

In a section looking at rehabilitation and employment, he looks at the current rules on disclosing criminal records (namely the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974), as well as recent efforts to change things, and concludes that they’re not enough.

Previous reform proposals have ‘focused on making a one-size fits-all criminal records system more generous, normally to young people. Proposals tend to involve reducing the time taken before various offences are considered “spent”. I strongly support the Taylor Review’s recommendations, set. However, I regard the one-size fits-all system itself to be unfit for purpose. A new approach is needed.’

Building on this, he makes two (very much linked) recommendations on criminal records:

  1. He recommends a process for sealing criminal records: ‘Recommendation 34: Our CJS should learn from the system for sealing criminal records employed in many US states. Individuals should be able to have their case heard either by a judge or a body like the Parole Board, which would then decide whether to seal their record. There should be a presumption to look favourably on those who committed crimes either as children or young adults but can demonstrate that they have changed since their conviction.’
  2. He recommends research that would help to support such sealing system: ‘Recommendation 35: To ensure that the public understands the case for reform of the criminal records regime, the MoJ, HMRC and DWP should commission and publish a study indicating the costs of unemployment among ex-offenders.

Is it a good idea to seal criminal records?

I agree with the criticisms of a one-size-fits-all system. Unlock has long supported the introduction of a criminal records tribunal, a process that would enable individuals to apply to have their criminal record deemed spent or filtered and, if granted, would mean it must no longer be disclosed to employers on a relevant criminal record check.

David Lammy rightly draws on the systems elsewhere. ‘In other countries, there is much greater flexibility built into the system,’ he says. ‘In the US State of Massachusetts, for example, offenders who believe that they can demonstrate that they are reformed and are no longer a threat to others can petition to have their criminal records expunged.’

As part of my Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship in 2014, I looked at the system of ‘legal rehabilitation’ in France. It can apply to all types of sentences, including prison sentences and all types of offences (even those classed as ‘crimes’ in the French system). People who have more than one conviction must apply for the rehabilitation of all; judicial rehabilitation concerns their entire life and the conditions are very strict; not only must they have totally stopped committing crime, they must have effectively become a ‘near perfect citizen’. If granted, the record is removed from the French equivalent of DBS checks.

The impact is profound; judges and lawyers report that individuals often have a trembling voice and cry when the ruling is voiced with an effect that resembles citizenship ceremonies. The number of individuals benefitting from this process is very small (just over 20 a year on average) showing how it’s a very high bar to meet the stringent process involved.

There is evidence from overseas that a sealing approach works. Evidence from the US is that reform of criminal records regimes can have a net financial benefit — $5,760 per individual in one year — through increased income, tax revenue and a reduction in welfare costs. Yet it’s more than just the financial benefit.

Ultimately, as I wrote in a letter in the Independent over the weekend, a sealing process would help to address the injustice that many people face as a result of what are currently arbitrary fixed rules that take no account of the positive steps people have taken since their criminal record.

That said, I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the task in implementing such a system; there is widespread misunderstanding about how the current regime works. There are lots of technical questions about who might get their record sealed and what that would mean for them as individuals as well as the impact on employers in terms of recruitment.

There is also resistance to change within government. The UK government lost in the Court of Appeal earlier this year, with the court ruling that the current disclosure regime is disproportionate and unlawful. The government could have responded by implementing some kind of sealing system, or expanding the existing inflexible rules. They didn’t. Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where the government has appealed to the Supreme Court and is standing by the current approach — I hope that David Lammy’s report and recommendations helps them to think again.

How could a sealing system work?

I agree with Lammy that the criminal records regime should not only make a sharper distinction between adults, there should also be an opportunity for people to present the case, before a judge, that they should have their criminal record sealed.

Lammy says that a ‘more flexible system is required, which is capable of recognising when people have changed and no longer pose a significant risk to others.’ In giving some thought to how to take this forward, a flexible system needs to be set within context — around 250,000 criminal record checks every year in England & Wales reveal convictions or cautions — and it’s unrealistic for every case to be considered individually. Furthermore, I would caution against ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ and scrap the existing system entirely, as in some ways that would be a step backwards.

In my response to the Court of Appeal’s judgment in May this year, I said that a fairer and more flexible system would be one with expanded automatic filtering rules and a discretionary filtering process with a review mechanism so that individual circumstances can be considered. Ultimately, the system has to have a degree a certainty about it. For an individual to know, for example, that after a certain period of time conviction-free will result in their record becoming ‘spent’ is an important aspect to the system, but that shouldn’t be the end of it. Many people have to wait years for a conviction to become spent. For many jobs, even once they’re spent they’re still disclosed. Any kind of sealing system would have to be clear, easy to understand and transparent. That would be important not only for individuals, but also employers too.

This also represents an opportunity to build trust and confidence into a system that is widely regarded as being ineffective. A process involving a decision maker that is independent of both government and employers has the potential to come to much more equitable decisions about what needs to be disclosed in the future and what doesn’t. A sealing process has the potential to insert a degree of flexibility into what is otherwise a blunt system.

Finally, a risk with looking to a sealing process as a solution is that you lose sight of the context. Whatever happens, there will always employers that want to know about criminal records, and likewise there will always individuals who have criminal records that need to be disclosed to them. That’s why when the government looks at reform of the criminal records regime, it needs to go hand-in-hand with other measures to help increase the rates of employment amongst those with a criminal record; that means looking at putting ‘ban the box’ on a legislative footing and piloting tax incentives to encourage employers to recruit people leaving prison and people on probation.

This blog was originally published on The Justice Gap


  1. Download the Lammy review — criminal records are looked at in the ‘Work, Education and Training’ section (pages 62–66) of the chapter on rehabilitation
  2. Read my letter in the Independent
  3. Find out more about wholesale reform to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  4. Find out more about how the filtering process doesn’t go far enough

Could you help somebody cope with prison life? Paid work opportunity – deadline 30th June

The Samaritans are looking to recruit some extraordinary people to run workshops in two London prisons. Have you got what it takes? Find out more below. But be quick – deadline 30th June 2017. 

Many people go into prison not knowing what to expect. That’s why the Samaritans and HMPPS are running a six-month pilot project in two London prisons.

They are recruiting ex-prisoners to run workshops for people who are new to prison. The two-hour workshops will focus on how to stay emotionally well and cope during a prison sentence. Samaritans are recruiting up to 15 people to run the sessions and Group Leaders will be paid (£120 per session). They’ll receive full training and support too.

Here’s what one person who has benefited from being a Samaritan had to say:

“I’ll never forget my first night in prison. I felt vulnerable and unsafe. My family, my friends, the people I loved, seemed a million miles away.

I didn’t think I was going to get through it. Who could I trust? How should I behave? And what, if anything, was going to be waiting for me at the end of my time in jail? I had blown my chances and it looked as if my life was going to be all downhill from here.

I would never have admitted it though – I was a tough guy starting a five-year sentence, and didn’t want to show any sign of weakness. I needed a mask to hide behind, and I made sure it stayed in place, I felt my life depended on it.

I kept my head down over the next few weeks but felt as low as I’d ever been. Prison is very noisy and every time you think you might fall asleep something wakes you up. And then you remember where you are.

The turning point came when one of the prison officers talked to me about the Samaritans Prison Listener scheme. He said I’d be good for it. I was sceptical, I didn’t know what it was but he said it could help me, as well as giving me a chance to help other people. A Listener came to see me later that day, and he talked to me about what was involved, how he had found the training, and how he helped other prisoners. It was the first proper conversation I had in prison.

Becoming a Listener and learning new skills really helped me. Not just inside, but in my relationships with my friends and family, as well as helping other prisoners find a way through their problems. I have learned no-one is invincible and we all put on an act of being tough. Dropping the mask was a relief for me in the end, and my training has helped me see the beginning of a different life ahead.”

If you have been in prison and especially if you have been a Listener, you can find out more about this paid opportunity here.

The deadline for applications is 30th June 2017.

Writing competition open to former prisoners

The Prison Reform Trust have just launched their 2017 writing competition.

The competition is open to prisoners, prisoners’ families and friends, and to former prisoners. There are three categories:

  1. A comment piece
  2. A short story
  3. A lyric/rap.

With the prison and probation service at a crossroads, this year’s topic for the comment prize will be:

All in it together: fixing the prison community!

Download the competition leaflet which has more information on the categories, rules and guidelines.

Entries close on Monday 7th August.

Good luck.

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