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Tag: Rehabilitation -

Banning the Box and the Demands for Disclosure – Part 1

It’s a sobering thought when you’re sat there, faced with three strangers you’ve never met: the panel at your job interview has more information about your criminal record than a jury would if you were on trial. And, in a capitalist economy where we all have to earn a living, employers are every bit as powerful an influence on your life as judges.

In a criminal trial, the jury is not allowed to know if you have a previous conviction. This is to make sure they aren’t prejudiced against you so that you get a fair trial. Research with mock juries has shown that jurors are likely to believe a defendant guilty if they know the defendant has been convicted a similar crime in the past. So it’s probable that interview panels are more likely to believe people with convictions might commit a crime while they’re employing them if they know about previous convictions. But, with one in five unemployed people having a criminal record, how are they supposed to get a fair interview if they’ve already had to disclose their convictions to the potential employer on their application form?

Some employers make sure that interview panels aren’t shown your disclosure so that they aren’t prejudiced. Many do not. And many small firms don’t have an HR dept., it’s just the boss, your application form, you and your record. So it’s impossible to remove prejudice. And that’s exactly why ‘Ban the Box’ action is crucial.

The practice of employers seeking a disclosure is very common, according to one survey carried out for British Industry in the Community (BITC) it’s a staggering 73%. In response, one year ago, BITC supported by Nacro, Unlock and others, launched the UK’s own Ban the Box campaign, #bantheboxuk.

The idea is to work with employers to get them to remove the criminal convictions question (‘the box’) from application forms and only ask about convictions at a later stage in the process – this varies depending on the employer, but many instead ask at interview.

So, imagine being in an interview in your forties and being quizzed about the worst and most stupid thing you did in your teens. Does that seem like a reasonable interview question to you? No? Well, that’s exactly the kind of situation people with convictions face every day.

Emotionally, it can be a truly gruelling process. Even the most well-meaning of employers, like charities who work with the disadvantaged, walk you back through the worst time in your life, get you to talk about what was going on for you at the time, assess your level of regret and remorse then thank you very much for your honesty and show you the door. If they don’t give you the job, there was absolutely no need for them to put you through that or for them to have that information. It’s an invasion of privacy of the highest order, and many people who’ve been through it never again seek work from employers who behave that way.

If employers ask about records on application, it means everyone who applies needs to make a disclosure, even though only one person – the successful candidate – ever really needs to. All the other applicants and interviewees are just members of the public with no legal obligation to disclose or undergo a DBS check. Their offending isn’t relevant to the employer because they are not employed, and are not going to be. So they should be able to exit the recruitment process with their privacy and dignity intact, shouldn’t they?

This is Part 1. More to follow….

You can read more about Ban the Box at

Three tips on overcoming your convictions

AnthDr. Anthony Hewitt has spent more than twenty years working the criminal justice and drug treatment fields. He currently specialises in designing and implementing prison drug treatment systems. We asked him to give us three tips for prison leavers who want to move on and leave their offending behind them. Here’s what he had to say.

Three things to do:

1. In practice we often get what we need through people we know. Taking work as an example, most people don’t get work through the Jobcentre, but more often through contacts. Do use the Jobcentre, agencies, websites, the papers and so on, but also use other people for advice. This could mean someone you know giving you a job or some work. But also it could mean someone telling you about an opportunity they heard about, or even just some ideas they have about how you can get work. The point is that the best resource is often other people, so use this resource. Ask EVERYONE you can think of for help. Don’t be pushy about it, don’t expect them to have solutions, don’t even worry that they don’t know you that well or haven’t seen you for ages. Just ask them if they’ve got any good ideas, ask all of them. Think of everyone you’ve ever known, haven’t completely pissed off, and who you can get to talk to, and ask them, and ask them to ask around for you. The same approach could apply to finding somewhere to live, a cheap car, or to anything you might need or want.

2. Understand the world doesn’t owe you a living. A lot of us don’t get what we want when we want it. That’s life sometimes. And things can definitely be more difficult with a criminal record. Try not to get bitter and angry about obstructions and setbacks, that won’t help anyone, especially you. Whether they know about your convictions or not, being angry or upset with people who don’t give you what you want is only going to make them think they were right not to help you. Why should that potential employer, landlord or partner take the time and trouble to get to know why you’re the right choice? Why should they take your word for it? Learn to deal with the knockbacks as best you can, and you’re more likely to get where you want in the end.

3. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses; what you have going for you, not what might be going against you – like a criminal record. Think hard about ALL the things in your favour; skills you’ve got, stuff you know about, your personality, your likes and interests, your life experience, everything. This is one time when it’s good to make a list, and keep adding to it. Other people can help with this too. Put down everything you can possibly think of, don’t hold back, you don’t have to show any of it to anyone. It’s not just a CV of all the work you’ve done, try and be creative and get down as many things as you can. Try and frame things in a positive way, the more of them and the more positive the better. This list is a good starting point to draw from when you’re selling yourself, perhaps to a potential employer, perhaps to a potential partner. It can also help remind you what you’ve got going for you, and that’s probably a lot more than you realise.

‘In It’ by Jonathan Robinson: a Review

Review by Richard

This is one book that definitely needed to be written. In It is one man’s journey through the prison system and it gives a very clear view of what works and doesn’t work within that system. What works is the opportunity for prisoners to reflect on what brought them into prison. What doesn’t work is just about everything else except security – and even that was imperfect.

Robinson, a trained pilot and flying instructor who robbed his employer to impress his wife with money, struggles from day one with the uncoordinated and, at times, crazy bureaucracy that prevails throughout the system. The core message of the book is that prison simply does not work as a method for civilising the uncivilised and educating the uneducated. But there’s the rub: that is not what the majority of the British population at large want it to be. Most people simply expect the prison service to lock people up and punish them for their crimes, and that is exactly what it does. However, the very high re-offending rate that results from this approach is something that both policy makers and the author himself try to address.

Through his experience and his writing Robinson spends his entire sentence struggling to come to terms with the difference between what he thinks prison ought to be, “a thriving, self-sufficient, enthusiastic [place] whose occupants … put back in what they’ve been given,”  a place run by  “enthusiastic staff who give praise [and] good leadership” thus making it an “Efficient, happy ship,” and what it actually is: a place with “Prisoners prevailing in bed, the odious repulsive food littered around the battleground dining room set-dressed by huge slovenly quantities of unwashed plates making up the scenery.”

The book is structured as a day-by-day diary recorded in as-it-happened notes, and this is both a revealing insight into the everyday life of a prisoner but also the book’s biggest weakness. Although he says in the epilogue that a lot of material has been edited out the book still suffers from being at least fifty percent longer than it needs to be to make the point – just as many prison sentences are. What comes through well is the way in which minor snags and an unresponsive system give rise to unnecessary frustrations and routine basic injustices, such not having clothes that fit or food that is edible. All of his very valid observations could have been made without much of the irrelevant details that fill the book and it would have benefitted hugely form being better edited. Although, as Robinson points out, when you have no control or influence over your life, minor issue take on a huge significance and “These life shattering events are important in prison.”

Although repeatedly remorseful about his crime, Robinson still comes across as expecting the National Offender Management Service to be a super-efficient customer service department whose purpose is to improve his opportunities and those of his fellow inmates. This it clearly is not. But, as he points out, there seems to be no justification for the appalling waste of energy, both human and material, that results from prisoners not working during their time inside and the huge amount of money being wasted on unnecessary heating bills and dozens of other inefficiencies.

Despite the strange use of punctuation and speech marks throughout the book, and the lack of thorough editing, Robinson writes well. His metaphor of prison as a film set and each event as a scene played out by characters who he often names after film stars gives a vivid sense of the personalities involved and brings great humour to a tragic set of circumstances. Highly recommended reading for anyone involved in criminal justice policy.

In It is available to purchase as an eBook from Amazon.

Re-Imagining the Use of Criminal Records in Europe

Andrew Henley

In the context of the recent, but limited, reforms to the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in England and Wales it is worthwhile considering different approaches to criminal record data which have been taken across continental Europe. To this end, I recently attended the 6th Annual Lecture of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Edinburgh, delivered this year by Professor Elena Larrauri from the Universitat Pompeu de Barcelona.

Professor Larrauri notes that the use of pre-employment criminal record screening has increased due largely to a culture of risk aversion and a desire by the public for increased security and protection from what formerly convicted people ‘might do’ in the future. Yet despite this expansion in screening, criminal records have received relatively little attention from academics, with the notable exception of the United States where the availability of conviction data is comparatively widespread.

The expansion of pre-employment screening produces an impact in three areas related to the regulation of criminal record data. Firstly, how much disclosure is acceptable? Do we, for instance, believe that all employers have the right to ask about criminal records or do we take the view that such information should be subject to some sort of privacy controls? Clearly the more risk averse a society becomes, the more likely it is to tend towards the former rather than the latter point of view. Secondly, is the issue of expungement time, or how long it takes for criminal records to become ‘spent’ or ‘sealed’. Again, it is easy to imagine how the length of this period will tend to be dependent upon the level of risk aversion in a society. The third issue relates to which jobs should be subject to pre-employment criminal record screening and formed the main basis of the lecture.

In continental Europe (as opposed to the UK), conviction-based employment screening has often been limited to the public sector and, in particular, roles in the administration of justice such as judges, police and prison officers. Until now little attention has been paid to blanket bans on the employment of people with previous convictions in public administration. But Professor Larrauri posed the question as to whether we should simply accept it as a given that people with a criminal record are automatically excluded from public sector roles. She notes, for instance, that an ‘automatic exclusion’ approach can expand to other roles in public administration including office clerks and ultimately even the gardener who works in the grounds of a public building. Additionally, she highlights the fact that a range of employment has increasingly become subject to forms of occupational licencing meaning that taxi drivers, nightclub door staff and even bingo hall callers have required ‘clean’ records in some jurisdictions.

In relation to private-sector employers, comparatively little information about the extent of criminal records checks is available in continental Europe. However, Professor Larrauri notes that EU directive 2011/92/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children may mark a shift in this position given that it will enable some private employers to ask about previous convictions. She noted, however, that the legislation does not give criminal records a ‘conclusive force’ (telling employers who they may not employ) but rather empowers them to ask about criminal records in some situations. Caution was also expressed that forms of screening brought in to combat sexual abuse can often open the door to screening for violent offences or for any employment which relates to the somewhat ill-defined and broad category of ‘vulnerable adults’.

In order to combat unnecessary discrimination against people with convictions who have served their sentences, two models currently exist. In the ‘spent model’ employers are legally prohibited from considering criminal records after a period of time has elapsed. The problems associated with this however, are in determining what are appropriate ‘expungement times’ and the fate of the ex-offender during this interim period whilst they wait for their conviction to become ‘spent’. In the ‘anti-discrimination model’ employers are advised that they can only exclude people where there is a ‘close nexus’ between the nature of the conviction and the type of employment being applied for – for instance, between fraud and work in the financial sector or between speeding convictions and driving jobs. The issue with this model is that it can often represent a delegation of the power to punish from the state to employers, since the exclusion from employment which results can be seen as a form of punishment in its own right.

Professor Larrauri suggests that, as an alternative to these models, the judicial and legal system should take ownership of criminal records and incorporate them into the process of delivering punishment at the point of sentencing. Given that the purpose in using criminal record data is supposed to be an attempt to reduce risk to the broader public (although it is not firmly established to what extent this data remains predictive of future offending in the long-term), this could mean the imposition of certain occupational disqualifications for an extended period following the end of a sentence. This would mean that certain people would be disqualified from specific occupations rather than all forms of employment. Additionally, such disqualifications would be based on individual assessment rather than blanket bans and would necessarily be time limited rather than indefinite. This is because bringing criminal records into the field of punishment, rather than seeing them as a ‘collateral consequence’ of a conviction, would mean that the usual legal and human rights safeguards associated with punishment (for example, Article 7 of the European Convention – ‘no punishment without law’) would then begin to apply, which currently they do not.

Article taken from Issue 18.

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