Reading between the lines: interpreting criminal record information | Nacro

Reading between the lines: interpreting criminal record information


For many years criminal record information has, legitimately or otherwise, been shared with employers and organisations.
Criminal record information can be obtained legally from Disclosure Scotland, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or from the individual to whom the criminal record information relates.

DBS certificates and basic disclosures rarely tell the whole story. Information shared this way is very factual. It details:

  • The offence category/categories
  • When the offence(s) happened
  • The disposal administered/how it was dealt with by the court/police

It is important to remember that:

  • Offence categories can be confusing – they often cover a broad range of behaviours which vary in terms of seriousness. They are rarely self-explanatory and can often make offences sound more serious.
  • Police recording practices vary – a person could be charged with a lesser offence to secure a conviction.
  • Disclosures fail to address why the offence occurred. What led this person to offend? And are they likely to do it again?

Disclosure statements provide organisations with the opportunity to gather information which can be used to inform their risk assessment. It also provides individuals with the opportunity to fill in the gaps by providing the organisation with relevant background information.

This is why disclosure is so important when it comes to safe and fair recruitment and admissions.

Example for consideration

Imagine you are a manager of a residential care home and you are attempting to recruit a new care worker. The position is eligible for a DBS check. You have been actively seeking someone for this role for a considerable amount of time and have narrowed it down to two preferred candidates, Paul and Tracy. They both meet the requirements of the role and you are now conducting the pre-employment checks, which includes a criminal record check. You have received their DBS certificates, which contain the following information:

Name: Mr Paul Andrew Jones
Date of Conviction: 01 February 2010
Court: City of London Magistrates
Offence: Burglary with intent to commit criminal damage (Theft Act 1968 S.9)   
Disposal: Referral order 3 months – fine £100, costs £43

Name: Tracy Joanne Smith
Date of Conviction: 06 June 2012 
Court: Birmingham Magistrates       
Offence: Abduction of child by other persons (Child Abduction Act 1984 S.2)      
Disposal: Fine £200, costs £43

What immediately springs to mind on seeing this information? Does this information raise any concerns? Would you immediately discount them from the role?

You invite both candidates to provide you with a disclosure statement and they inform you of the following:

Paul was homeless and, during one particularly cold winter, was searching for somewhere to sleep. He came across an old, derelict, disused warehouse and thought he would seek shelter for the night. A local business owner saw him entering the building and called the police.

Tracy’s daughter-in-law was threatening to leave the country to begin a new life for her and her young daughter in New Zealand. Tracy took her grandchild for 24 hours in an attempt to force her son and her daughter-in-law to reconcile their differences.

Would your opinion change on receipt of this information? How would you use this information to inform your risk assessment? What further questions would you ask?

From Nacro’s experience employers and organisations sometimes struggle to know exactly what criminal record information they can legally obtain and what questions they can ask as part of their risk assessment process, and experience difficulties in interpreting and managing the information received.

If you are involved in the management and interpretation of criminal record information, whether for recruitment, admissions or any other risk assessment purpose, take a look at our Recruiting Safely and Fairly training, an interactive workshop for employers and organisations.

Follow us on Twitter @Nacro_