When I joined Unlock for a year long training placement last August, I was filled with a mixture of nerves and excitement. Fresh out of university with my Criminology degree, I was nervous about starting a 9-5 job for the first time. I also lacked experience in both the niche areas that Unlock operates in: supporting those with criminal records and advocating for them through various processes of reform.
Although this was daunting, these reasons were equally the source of my excitement. Reform had been the only avenue I was truly interested in pursuing with my degree and Unlock provided me with the means of doing so. I hoped this placement would allow me to expand my knowledge of the criminal justice system by gaining a better understanding of criminal records and contribute to making real changes that will help people across the country.
The initial four months were spent with our Advice team, namely on the helpline. Here I offered information, advice and guidance about how criminal records relate to an array of areas such as employment, travel, insurance and education. Getting a basic understanding of legislation, rules and procedures was a priority. Sometimes this seemed overwhelming, but my wonderfully helpful colleagues were always there to support me by answering any questions that I had. This, in combination with many hours spent reading our website, has resulted in me quickly absorbing a large amount of detailed information. By the time my spell on the helpline ended, I was probably able to recite disclosure laws for different levels of DBS checks in my sleep! After a couple of months on the helpline my confidence in being able to provide advice and guidance had skyrocketed.
A definite highlight of my time with Unlock so far is undoubtedly being able to see the real impact that we have improving the lives of people with criminal records. Due to the complexity of criminal records, many people who call our helpline are often anxious and worried. This is particularly true for disclosing to potential employers. The gratitude that you can hear in some voices when they receive information they were previously unaware of, particularly if it is that they do not need to disclose their criminal record and it will not show up on a DBS check, is so encouraging.
This was particularly highlighted after amendments to ‘spent’ periods were introduced with the implementation of changes in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC) 2022 (Unlock provided a briefing on these changes, which can be found here). These amendments reduced the length of time a sentence remains unspent while also letting certain sentences become spent when they previously never could, a truly lifechanging impact, and something we were delighted to be able to inform individuals about when they contacted the helpline.
The fact that Unlock campaigned for the introduction of these amendments, combined with me directly hearing how much it meant to some people, was a huge source of excitement and motivation to join the Policy team after Christmas. A great strength of Unlock is the connection that our Advice team provides to people affected by the issues which we campaign on. This lends our voice greater authenticity as we spend time discussing these issues daily with those they impact. In turn, this lets our organisation seek systemic change with more focus as we have a sense of current areas of need.
The experience which I gained on the Advice team will be an asset for my work on Policy as it provides a slightly different perspective. From speaking to hundreds of different people on the helpline I have learnt that many situations which people with criminal records face are nuanced. I may be reminded of a specific conversation I had that is pertinent to some policy work and raise an impact that we might have otherwise overlooked. I cannot wait to get stuck into this work in the coming months!
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