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?
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
Punishing people for having a criminal record?! Oh noes.

It's possible to get a job while having a criminal record. It's possible to overcome having a criminal record. But unlike things people have no control over (disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, etc..) I don't think that it's unjust to make decisions for hiring based on prior criminal record (or other things people control. Like laziness). If you have two similarly qualified individuals and one has a criminal record and the other doesn't... That seems like a pretty simple hiring decision.
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 07:50 pm (UTC)
Last time I checked, crimes have sentencing. THAT'S the punishment, not a lifetime of it being used to keep people from doing their best to better themselves.

Edit: And according to federal law, employers can't use the existence of a criminal offense to deny someone employment. If they do they can be sued. So it's not as simple as "one person has a record and the other doesn't, hey, easy decision!"

Edited at 2013-01-30 07:55 pm (UTC)
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
Second and third order of effects.

Sure. They could be sued. If it could be proven.
imnotasquirrel 30th-Jan-2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
IDK, I think it depends on the nature of the offense and the job in question? For example, I really can't blame people for being up in arms about Mike Tyson getting a role on L&O: SVU.

(I don't really know how federal law would apply there, because it seems like Hollywood can get away with a lot more openly discriminatory practices.)
kitschaster 31st-Jan-2013 12:40 am (UTC)
You really cannot even begin to understand what it's like to come upon one conviction after a lifetime of being a good person, an amazing straight A student, and a hard worker. I was out of a job for two years up until today, even though I'd never had a criminal record before, and because I told the truth about pushing a guy off me who tried to wrestle me to the ground. Instead of convicting the obvious threat, they convicted the 5'3 girl who was trying to defend herself, because I admitted to pushing him away, while he told the police he was just trying to "restrain me". He even demonstrated how he flung me to the ground.

So no. You really have no clue what it's like to be in that situation, have a record, and be a good person who got a bad deal because she had the nerve to defend herself against a grown man in a southern state. You literally know nothing. I have been reliant on my fiance, and I went from making a very good amount of money to having to go back to school and start all over again in a completely new career, while that will STILL follow me around, but at least with this new career I can freelance.

Do you not take into consideration those who were convicted under bs terms in states that do not allow for you to clear your record or allow it to fall off after so long? Do you not take into consideration the rate of minorities convicted simply for existing in some cities, like New York, just so they can have their record fucked up and be unable to feed themselves, because for you the obvious decision is the non-convicted criminal? You sound quite privileged, but that's alright. Up until 2010, I thought it was okay to be honest with the police and tell them exactly what happened, because only bad people go to jail. Because there is no way they'd look at a short chubby girl, and a built martial artist, and decide I was the threat.


Edited at 2013-01-31 12:44 am (UTC)
alexvdl 31st-Jan-2013 12:50 am (UTC)
You're right. I don't know every story out there. I don't know every situation. I certainly didn't know your story. I do know the justice system screws over a lot of people and that I'm sorry that you've had to go through that experience.

I also know that you're making a lot of assumptions about my experiences with the legal system and how it affects employment.

I hope that your new job works out well for you, and health and prosperity in the future.
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.
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't say that at all. I'm very sorry for the things your sister has had to endure.

vulturoso 30th-Jan-2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
Punishing people for having a criminal record?! Oh noes.

Do you think people just wake up one day and think, "I think I'll do some crime today. The stability of my situation is too monotonous and needs more drama and societal backlash"?
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.
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
I made no judgement calls upon the moral character or worthiness of anyone. Doing so would be slightly hypocritical.
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
Funny, considering how judgy you're being all over this post.
mary_pickforded 30th-Jan-2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
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