With the Christmas break almost upon us and 2017 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the last 12 months work of the charity and the developments relating to criminal records.
Once again it’s been an incredibly busy year for Unlock, with lots of positive news and progress to report. We’ve continued to expand the information, advice and support we provide to help people overcome the stigma of their convictions:
- We have yet again seen a year-on-year increase in the numbers of people accessing our helpline and websites. Building on last years’ unprecedented rise, our helpline will have dealt with over 7,500 enquiries in 2017, over 10% increase on last year.
- The number of visitors to our information site has also continued to grow, with over 1.2 million people accessing the site this year, showing that last year was not a one-off when we hit over a million for the first time ever.
- Our disclosure calculator will have helped over 50,000 people work out when their convictions become spent.
We’ve also strengthened our advocacy role by challenging discriminatory practices, supporting employers and influencing government policy. Recommendations by the Justice Committee and David Lammy on criminal records shows that the weight of support for reform is building.
That said, there continues to be new and extended policies and practices that treat people with convictions unfairly and effectively punish people long after they’ve served their sentence. In particular, the new year will see us dealing with the changes to charity rules that will impact on who can become a trustee or senior manager of a charity.
There’s then the small matter of a Supreme Court hearing in the summer of 2018, where the government is trying to appeal against a ruling that the current disclosure of old and minor criminal records is disproportionate and in need of reform.
This all means that, now more than ever, it’s vital that we continue to work hard to provide support and a voice for people with convictions, so we look forward to yet another strong year in 2018 and please help us to continue our work.
In the meantime, on behalf of all the staff and the board of trustees, I would like to wish the people we help, our volunteers, supporters and funders a very merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.
All the best,
Christopher Stacey | Co-director of Unlock
Here’s a quick round-up of some of the key moments during the year:
In January, there was a second reading in the House of Lords of a Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We also published a new ’10 things about criminal records’ guide for employability professionals.
In February, the Law Commission published a review of the DBS criminal record filtering system, which concluded that “the present system raises significant concerns in relation to ECHR non-compliance” and that this “is an area of law in dire need of thorough and expert analysis. A mere technical fix is not sufficient to tackle such interwoven and large scale problems.”
Also in February, the DWP published an open recruitment employer guide. With a particular section on people with criminal records, it includes 7 top tips for employers that have been drawn from our principles of fair chance recruitment and lists six useful organisations, including Unlock.
In March, we gave evidence to the Justice Committee as part of their inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records.
In April, we started gathering examples of employers that have wrongly checked official criminal records.
In May, there was a landmark Court of Appeal ruling that rejected the Government’s appeal to a decision of the High Court in January 2016, which ruled that the criminal records disclosure scheme was disproportionate and unlawful.
Ahead of the general election in June, we published our top 4 priorities for the next government, including piloting tax incentives to encourage employers to recruit people with convictions and fundamentally reviewing the criminal record disclosure system.
In June, a Criminal Records Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords. Introduced by our president, Lord Ramsbotham, the Bill, which would shorten the rehabilitation periods that apply under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), proposes a number of changes. One of the most significant elements is that sentences of over 4 years in prison would become spent 4 years after the end of the full sentence.
In July, we spoke in Parliament at the launch of new research about the impact of criminal records on women trying to exit prostitution.
In August, we developed new information dedicated to the launch of basic DBS checks which started the following month.
In September, we responded to the report by David Lammy MP and his recommendations for reform to the criminal records disclosure regime. The Independent published our letter which supported his proposal of a sealing process. We also published new research which highlighted how insurance companies are breaking the law by taking into account old criminal records
In October, the Justice Committee published its report into the disclosure of youth criminal records, which we had lobbied them to carry out. The Independent published a letter from us arguing that forcing adults to admit to petty crime from their teen years is unfair and counter-productive.
In November, the Observer published an article titled ’Irrelevant’ criminal record checks harm ex-offenders’ job hopes. We were quoted as saying that “This can affect somebody who stole two chocolate bars when they were 14 and they’re now in their 50s. Having to relive one of the worst moments in their lives by explaining it to a stranger puts a lot of people off applying and unnecessarily anchors people to their past. The routine rejection by employers locks people out of the labour market and has a considerable financial cost to society through out-of-work benefits.”
In December, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published a briefing, which Unlock supported, that found that three-quarters of a million criminal records that are more than a decade old are being revealed to employers on DBS checks each year.
Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock