ONTD Political

Ex-offenders deserve a chance in the workplace

3:05 pm - 01/30/2013
Possible trigger warning: assault

The government is finally facing calls to change criminal records laws following Lord Dyson's judgment that the current system breaches a person's right to privacy. The judgment arose following the case of a 21-year-old who had been forced to disclose a warning he received as a child for stealing two bicycles.

Coverage of the story so far has involved people with "media-friendly crimes". Mine isn't as endearing as that and is unlikely to be featured in arguments in favour of the new ruling, but I still believe the system should afford myself and others more protection than it currently does.

Between the age of 16 and 18 I gleefully chucked a lifetime of straight As behind me to go off the rails, believing myself to be the female incarnation of Begbie from Trainspotting. I was swiftly removed from school and placed in a pupil referral unit for children with behavioural and mental health problems. Somewhere between leaving the unit and getting kicked out of the house by my parents, I hit another girl at a party – to the point where she needed three stitches. A year later I was fined £100 – relatively low as assault fines go, but as my lawyer assured me, "they don't put away nice girls like you".

Since my first and last attempt at fighting, I've duly ticked all the boxes for things middle-class people seem to find impressive. I've completed an MA. I edited the university newspaper and won a scholarship to train as a journalist. I was nominated for a Guardian Student Media award, despite having never opened a copy of it until I was 22 (people don't read broadsheets where I'm from). The older I got, the more my conviction was a blip in an otherwise uninterrupted crescendo of achievement.

My sentence was more than eight years ago, so is long since spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). In fact, it was only when I became interested in working with people who were disadvantaged and socially excluded that my confidence in applying for work abruptly disappeared, thanks to the enhanced criminal records check (the former CRB checks now called DBS checks). More specifically, the inconsistency from one company to the next when it comes to handling applicants with a blemished DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) record is staggering. Despite my experience, education and training, every time I start a new job working with vulnerable people I'm at the mercy of employers' individual policies and beliefs on recruiting ex-offenders. The statistics only confirm my view that the ROA does little to protect people, with a paltry 20% of employers knowingly employing an ex-offender even though evidence has consistently shown that they work more, not less, as the result of constantly feeling they have to prove people wrong.

Rather than resisting the new ruling, the government needs to find a way of ensuring the current recruitment process strengthens the safeguards against discrimination. Currently an employer can turn you down for a position if the conviction is "deemed relevant". This is similar to the barrier often faced by people with a disability who are looking for work. But employers already have the "Two Ticks" policy as a way of encouraging disabled applicants, so the only thing stopping a similar scheme for those with a conviction is negative perceptions. In its 2012 report on employers' attitudes to ex-offenders, Working Links proposed the creation of an Offender Discrimination Act. No one's safety needs to be compromised, and at the same time the 9.2 million people in the UK who have criminal records in the UK won't be put off applying for roles requiring disclosure of an irrelevant offence.

After various jobs that ranged from visiting disabled people in their homes to tutoring kids, I've thought a lot about how my conviction could be "deemed relevant". An employer could deem it relevant if, for example, I'd spent almost a decade faking good behaviour as part of a masterplan that involves working in the often badly paid third sector in order to achieve my goal of attacking every work colleague and client in sight. This is preposterous, and yet it's not too far-fetched to suggest that employers are more likely to take this view over a more nuanced one that accepts human fallibility.

With the devastating impact of welfare changes ahead, the government should be embracing Lord Dyson's ruling, not putting up more obstacles for people already at a significant disadvantage.

Sauce @ The Guardian
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
I have a hard time finding fault with a system that rewards those that have a clean criminal record.
handsofclay 30th-Jan-2013 07:31 pm (UTC)
So... reward those who don't and fuck those who do? People with criminal records still need to make money to pay rent and buy food.

Not to mention that successful reintegration with society has an impact on recidivism rates.

It's not so much a mater of rewarding people for not having a criminal record as it is punishing those who do and how do people expect someone to continue living their life if the punishment of their crime never ends?
vulturoso 30th-Jan-2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
My little sister was molested as a child and raped as a teenager, and she didn't know how to deal with things so she acted out and got into legal trouble.

That bitch criminal should never have a chance to turn her life around, should she?

Go away.
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 07:47 pm (UTC)
Criminal records do not automatically mean that a person is evil or unworthy of making a living. That's why this country has an FCRA and companies like mine educate clients on what can and can't be used to deny someone employment.

Just because I have no criminal records more severe than a traffic ticket doesn't mean I'm better than someone who screwed up and might just be trying to turn themselves around.
mary_pickforded 30th-Jan-2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
zhiva_the_mage 30th-Jan-2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
"opinion piece" tag, perhaps?
deborahw37 30th-Jan-2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
I work with vulnerable people and our job application forms require applicants to disclose any convictions or cautions including those considered " spent" under the ROA.

If someone discloses a conviction we will still interview them if they meet all the other criteria and the applicant gets the chance to explain that they did something stupid as a youth.. we can and do employ ex offenders in some jobs and in some circumstances

We also clearly advertise that an enhanced CRB check is required for the post.

If you don't disclose something and the CRB picks it up then adios.

There was a glitch in moving over from the old police check system to the new CRB system because several staff who had a clean police check turned out not to have a clean enhanced CRB.

The issue wasn't then that they had nicked a box of sweeties from Woolies or been caught with a class B substance when they were 17 but that , despite clear guidance on disclosure on their initial application form, they had lied and ticked the " nothing to disclose box". We took it on a case by case basis and most kept their jobs but were disciplined.

Sadly the follies of our youth do come back to haunt us .
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
Sounds like it's the same as here--not disclosing something and then the record being found carries implications beyond whatever the crime was; it also implies dishonesty too. Not a good foot to start off on.
muizenstaartje 30th-Jan-2013 08:13 pm (UTC)
There's no guarantee someone with a clean record is going to be a saint, but putting vulnerable people at risk to give someone with a spot on their record a chance doesn't sound like the best idea either. I'm all for making sure that people with a criminal record find decent work that gives them means to support themselves and feel like human beings and not trash discarded by society.

However, some of those vulnerable people who need help are victims of criminal activity. Sometimes they are even witnesses in on-going trials. These people can disappear when they don't feel safe and sometimes that's not about how good you behave, but about how safe they feel. Yes, everybody deserves a fair second chance and sometimes that's not at the place you'd like.
I don't see how the record mentioned in the article would keep someone from doing the kind of paid work I do (scientific research and I work with plenty of people). I do see how it prohibits them from working with certain groups of vulnerable people (like victims of human trafficking to name one).
corbyinoz 30th-Jan-2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
I feel real sympathy for the OP. I work with teenage education, which means I read and research a great deal about teenagers and how, for many, their impulse control centres are not yet online and they are frequently badly affected by hormones. This is not an open pass for whatever a teen does, btw; but their reasoning ability can be seriously impaired. We *know* this, thanks to research. It affects the way we advocate the managing of classrooms, plan activities and so on.

So I have a lot more sympathy for something done during the teen years, and really do not think you can use what happened during that time as any indicator of who the person is after the age of about 25. Again, it's all relative; some teens perform horrendous crimes that have everything to do with severe psychological disturbance, and they're not the ones at issue here. No, for me it's about kids who undertake ridiculous risk-taking behaviour, or flare up with sudden aggression, who are doing things at 15-20 they won't dream of doing in their later years. To hold them endlessly accountable for mistakes made while they were learning how to be responsible adults, and while their own brains were immature in development and awash with hormones, seems manifestly unfair.
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
Since this article is from the UK, it makes me wonder if they even have laws about juvenile records and how/when they can be used?
deborahw37 30th-Jan-2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
Yep we do

Your juvenile record is usually considered sealed once you become an adult BUT for certain posts where you are working with children or vulnerable people you will be notified that an enhanced CRB check is required . You have to provide the documentation ( passport, NI, Birth certificate etc) and sign to agree to the check.It can't be done without your consent and you are clearly told that it includes convictions otherwise considered "spent".

akashasheiress 30th-Jan-2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I'd argue that that should also include adults with impulse-control issues. My (until four years ago) undiagnosed ADHD taught me as much.
mahsox_mahsox 31st-Jan-2013 05:50 am (UTC)
A year later I was fined £100 – relatively low as assault fines go, but as my lawyer assured me, "they don't put away nice girls like you".

Read more at ONTD Political: http://ontd-political.livejournal.com/10382740.html#comments#comments#ixzz2JWkLiBeN

She's already had her freebie from the justice system, right there. A lot of people don't get that. Would she had gone back to get her degree if she'd spent a couple of months in prison hanging out with criminals like those who aren't "nice girls" would have to? Who knows.

I can understand why she is unhappy that her record comes up when she is looking for certain sorts of jobs, but I just can't muster a huge amount of sympathy. She seems to be having no real trouble staying employed, and if she didn't want to work with vulnerable people then the fact she hit another girl giving her three stitches would never come up. She could be a bank teller or a shop assistant or a waitress or an accountant or... do you get my drift? It comes up only because she wants to work with vulnerable people. The employers who are looking at her applications are in a business where social issues are part of their day to day work because clients often have social issues. They should be more qualified than most to consider her crime in the context of her age at the time, the impulsive nature of the crime, and the period between her offending and the current day.

Decisions taken at age 18 can affect the rest of your life. They can affect the rest of another person's life... ask yourself where you think those stitches probably were on the other girl? Chances are they were near her eye or on her cheekbone, because those are the places most inclined to tear when you get hit. Three stitches is a nice little scar. Wonder whether that other girl is self conscious about it in job interviews.

The real problem is getting people who have lengthier and more recent criminal records and possibly other barriers (race, disability, illiteracy) into honest employment at all. That a quite employable woman with qualifications and good recent work history has a problem feeling 100% confident applying for jobs from one of many possible fields she could choose to be employed in is trifling and of little importance to anything.
ljtaylor 31st-Jan-2013 09:16 am (UTC)
I am making a wild guess here, but I think she wants to work with disadvantaged youths because she, herself, may have been a disadvantaged youth. she doesn't throw much light on this other than that she apparently wanted to do a Domino Harvey for a year or two.

that said, winning an award for the Guardian and then getting to write for the Guardian is a big huge achievement in itself, so I second the notion that she's not garnering much sympathy. her employment situation seems far less bleak than my own, she just can't get the job she wants.
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