With Christmas nearly here and 2020 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the last 12 months and some of the key moments for people with criminal records.
It’s certainly been a year like no other, but once again it’s been an incredibly busy year for Unlock, with lots of positive news and progress that benefits people with cautions and convictions.
As you can see in the month-by-month developments below, there have been some major strides forwards in reforming the criminal records disclosure system. Changes introduced in November to which cautions and convictions show up on higher-level DBS checks will mean over 45,000 people a year will now have a clear DBS check and be free of the stigma of their past. And proposals by the Ministry of Justice to reduce some disclosure periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act are welcomed, although we are calling for the reforms to go further.
But it’s not all been positive either. There continue to be new and extended policies and practices that treat people with criminal records unfairly and punish people long after they’ve served their sentence. And at a time when many people have lost their jobs, now more than ever it’s vital that Unlock continues to work hard to provide support and a voice for people with criminal records, so the charity looks forward to yet another strong year in 2021 – please help Unlock to continue its vital work.
For the charity itself:
- We’ve continued to see large numbers of people accessing our helpline and websites looking for information, advice and support. Our helpline has responded to around 8,000 enquiries this year and our information site has again had over a million visitors, with around 50,000 using our disclosure calculator to work out when their convictions become spent.
- We were delighted to welcome some new members to our small team this year – Kathryn, our new fundraising manager – Sam, our new policy officer – and Ruth, our new digital and communications manager.
- And we were over the moon to win the award for ‘Outstanding national organisation’ at the Criminal Justice Alliance awards last month.
On a personal note, it was announced earlier this month that after 12 years at Unlock I will be moving on from the charity in early February to take up the role of Director of Support and Development at Clinks. It’s going to feel bittersweet for me to move on from Unlock but I’m incredibly proud of my time at the charity and it has been an absolute privilege to have been co-director of such an amazing and unique charity for the last seven years. The trustee board have decided to take this opportunity to recruit a CEO to help the charity deliver on its next phase of work, so keep an eye out for more details on this.
On a practical note, our helpline will be closed for the Christmas holidays from 4pm today (Friday 18 December) and will reopen at 10am on Tuesday 5 January 2020. Our information site has details on what to do if you have questions over the festive period.
In the meantime, on behalf of everyone at Unlock, I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.
All the best,
Some key developments month-by-month
In January we launched, together with Transform Justice, the #FairChecks movement to help push for a fresh start for the criminal records system. We also launched a collaboration with the University of Nottingham with a funded PhD opportunity to carry out systematic and in-depth analysis of policy and practice around applicants with criminal records across UK universities. And a year after the UK’s highest court found current rules on criminal records checks breach human rights laws, Unlock, Liberty and Just for Kids Law denounced the Government for failing to fix this broken system.
In February we raised concerns as it was revealed that The Charity Commission has refused more than half of the applications it has received from people with criminal convictions who wish to serve as trustees or senior managers
In March the Department of Justice (DoJ) in Northern Ireland announced it was making changes to what is disclosed on standard and enhanced criminal record checks, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in January 2019.
In April we produced some new information which set out the latest information and advice on Covid-19 and how it impacts on those with a criminal record.
In May Nicola Collett, a PhD student at Keele University, wrote about how her research is progressing into the potential influence of a criminal record acquired between the ages of 10-25, later on in adulthood. (She also wrote another update in September)
In June co-director Christopher Stacey shared some thoughts on the current Black Lives Matter protests, the criminal justice system, racial discrimination and the impact of criminal records.
In July the government responded to Supreme Court ruling with plans to change criminal records disclosure regime. We also published a report that highlights potentially hundreds of unlawful criminal record checks by employers each year.
In August new guidance for taxi licensing authorities recommends exclusions for even minor convictions
In September we responded to Ministry of Justice plans to make reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We also published a joint report with the Prison Reform Trust which found over half of employers would feel more confident hiring people with sexual convictions if they had access to management advice, or if they believed that the applicant wouldn’t reoffend.
In October we published new information on what you need to know if you are an EU citizen and have a criminal record
In November, after years of campaigning by Unlock, there was a momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records. Changes to the law have come into effect, meaning many people will no longer have their old and minor cautions and convictions show up when they apply for jobs or voluntary roles that involve standard or enhanced DBS checks.
In December we published our full response to the government’s recent white paper proposing amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. We also put out a call for evidence as we want to hear from people who were prosecuted for historic gay offences and who have not yet applied for a pardon. Thousands of men still have to live with the fallout from a system which attacked them for their sexuality, and to escape that they are expected to apply to the same government which persecuted them. We are hoping to show that the process of disregards and pardons is unfair and discriminatory.