Tick the box at the start of an application that asks about prior criminal convictions and the chances are your job hopes will end up in smoke. So it was a big deal to those of us behind the Business in the Community #BantheBox campaign to hear UK Prime Minister, David Cameron declare on Monday (8 February) that people wishing to work in the Civil Service will no longer have to make a declaration about convictions at the start of the application process. This is an important step on the road to recovery and rehabilitation for our service users and it also tackles the effective bar from employment that the current system puts in place for people who have long moved on from offending.
The announcement was brave. Headlines the following morning told us ‘Criminals hunting jobs can hide past’ this only highlights the habitual reaction in some parts of the media of sensationalising sensible decisions to address entrenched unemployment and help people to move on from crime and contribute to society. Why is it that when it comes to criminal justice responses you are either one end of the spectrum or the other – either tough on offenders or too soft on offenders? Neither simplistic interpretation is right, of course. The reality is much more complicated. And it is always on the side of reducing the number of victims and building a more prosperous society.
Around 10 million people in the UK have a criminal record. Most of these are for minor offences, mistakes made long ago that most of us would have long forgotten about. Yet despite this, people carry their record with them throughout their career, throughout their life, long after it has been spent. They are inappropriately, often unlawfully barred from work and unable to build a life for themselves and their family. This isn’t dangerous, or playing with public safety, it’s just costly, it’s wrong and it needs to change.
Of course some jobs will always require full disclosure of convictions spent or unspent. No one should argue otherwise. Some types of convictions should bar people from particular roles, no question. However, most people with criminal records have put their offending behind them and present no more or less risk to the public than the rest of us. Yet someone who had a fight in sixth form, resulting in a caution can find themselves barred from medical school after achieving A*’s in their A Levels. How can this be right?
So this week, instead of thinking about the inevitable headlines, the PM listened to the experiences of thousands of people who contact Nacro for help. And I say Nacro purposefully. Nacro is 50 this year. And Nacro spearheaded this work. Colleagues past and present have laboured tirelessly to challenge employers and politicians alike to think differently about the locked up potential of individuals with criminal records. We are proud of this history. It isn’t easy work. It isn’t work that is easy to fundraise for. But it is vital work and it’s been fundamental to Nacro since we began in 1966. So on this note, well done to all those who have worked for Nacro, past and present: you have made a momentous change – thank you.