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
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.
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
Well, thankfully this is my job and I can say definitely that it does happen, quite often, and many employers in the US who try to run their own checks without knowing federal law get bitten in the ass for it. (For example, you can't use a DUI conviction to deny someone employment if they're applying for a non-driving job.)

The only reason it doesn't happen more often than it does is because a lot of individuals don't know their rights. It's why most background check companies have compliance divisions to make sure applicants and clients are aware of law and rights.
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 08:13 pm (UTC)
You can't use a DUI conviction to deny someone employment if they're applying for a non-driving job. However, it's pretty easy to look at a DUI conviction and see a substance abuse problem. What are the legal issues on that front?

(That's not sarcasm, btw. You seem to be in a place to know a lot about hiring practices and regulations thereof.)
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
You can't look at a record and use it to infer other things. I don't know every specific rule of the FCRA but records have to be relevant to the job, and DUI =/= assumption of abuse problems, which is vague and could get an employer in trouble if they tried to use it that way.
alexvdl 30th-Jan-2013 08:19 pm (UTC)
With at will employment and employers not being required to disclose reasons for not hiring someone, or even being required to contact someone and tell them the position has been filled, how does one present such a case?
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.)
nesmith 30th-Jan-2013 08:58 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, there is a huge difference, and that's why just having a criminal record can't be used (or should I say shouldn't since we are living in an imperfect world) to assume anything without more information. What the charge is, the severity, the outcome, whether it was deferred and resulted in a non-conviction or was a conviction, how long ago it happened, what state it happened in, how many counts, if there are other cases--all of that is hugely relevant, and again why my company strongly encourages clients not to just hop on the internet and try to do it themselves because most of the time they don't know what they're looking at.

And people who have even severe criminal records can be hired anywhere if the employer doesn't care what they've done, unless there's a law that countermands it. A guy who owns a hardware store can hire someone with multiple assault convictions if he wants to.
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.
kitschaster 31st-Jan-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm not making assumptions. You're being very clear. You can take your well wishing and shove it. It's people with your attitude that kept me unemployed for almost two years, feeling shameful for being unemployed, and being engaged to a person who's family looked down on me the entire time, because I was a minority living on unemployment for a year, and food stamps for another while being unemployed and unable to tell them why, even though I was in the right and am not a violent person.

So when you say that people who "play the game" by successfully dodging convictions should be rewarded, you sound like an ass who thinks that people who don't play successfully get what they deserve. If you don't want people to make assumptions about you, don't put people's livelihoods on a goddamn rewards system because they could play the game properly to you.
alexvdl 31st-Jan-2013 01:06 am (UTC)
I'm sorry that my well wishes offend you.

Since you don't understand my attitude at all, you're again making assumptions about "people like me". I understand that you're angry, and you have every right to be. But I don't give a damn about criminal record, skin color, background, political stance, or whether you like My Little Pony. None of that shit matters to me. But I'm not the outside world. I'm not in charge of hiring anyone.

I am well aware that criminal record doesn't determine good or bad. Some of the best people I know have records. I would certainly never attempt to shame you for having a conviction especially knowing your story.
kitschaster 31st-Jan-2013 01:00 am (UTC)
And that said, I'm walking away from this. I'm pretty much near tears and can't even believe what I'm reading here. Apparently, even those wrongfully convicted are threats and shouldn't be around "vulnerable people". Nobody wants to even consider wrongful conviction that takes years to clear, or can never be cleared. Wonderful.
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