Thursday 31 January 2013
Humiliating, unnecessary, unjust: The criminal record system is the modern equivalent of the stocks
"Almost everyone has broken the law at some point, but 'enhanced disclosure' can make the stigma of a criminal record impossible to overcome
An ex of mine once asked why I didn’t consider doing some teaching to supplement my income as a freelance journalist. I told him this could be tricky, given that I have a criminal record. He laughed, thinking I was joking, and it took me some time to convince him that I do indeed have a spent conditional discharge, plus a caution (both for shoplifting when I was a teenager, if you're interested). I think he was a bit shocked – but then, he was a lot more middle class than me, and probably unaware that one in four of the adult British population has a criminal record of some kind.
These crimes of mine would currently show up in an enhanced disclosure required for certain jobs – although maybe not for much longer, thanks to a recent ruling by the High Court, which could see an end to discrimination against those with minor, historic and irrelevant offences on their record.
Put your hands up if you’re a criminal too. Really? Are you sure? You’ve never done any drugs, pinched sweets as a kid or exceeded the speed limit as an adult? The reality is, most of us have broken the law at some stage, and whether or not we end up saddled with a record is more a question of luck – whether we got caught, basically.
For too long, too many decent people have had their career options limited by the enhanced disclosure process, where even convictions which are “spent” under the 1974 Rehabiliatation of Offenders Act are revealed for the purposes of certain jobs. Whilst having a record doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be employed as, say, a lawyer or a social worker, at the very least it causes unnecessary embarrassment and might create a false impression of someone’s character. In practice, many people don't even apply for jobs where they know their history will come to light, in some cases leading diminished lives and depriving our industries of potentially excellent employees."
Nacro’s reaction to the Court of Appeal ruling on criminal record checks