This page brings together the difficulties faced by people with criminal records (PWCRs) as a result of Covid-19 and social distancing measures. We’ll keep this page under review as we learn more about the issues people are facing.
We ran a survey from May to June 2020 to find out how people were being affected. Read the findings here.
We will use this evidence to call for solutions. We included survey findings, along with evidence gathered from our helpline, in our briefing to the Justice Select Committee. Read the briefing here.
For practical advice please see our information page on Covid-19
Enforcement of lockdown rules varies by region
It’s not unusual to see regional variations in punishment and this is no different for Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for lockdown breaches. For example North Yorkshire police were 26 times more likely (per head of population) to issue FPNs than police in Staffordshire, while police in Dorset were 4 times more likely to issue FPNs than police in Hampshire.
Disproportionate numbers of black and Asian people fined and/or arrested for breaching lockdown rules
Recently published analysis shows that police forces are up to six times more likely to issue FPNs to people of black, Asian or minority ethnicity than to white people. This may be partly explained by FPNs issued to non-residents – for example people travelling away from the city or visiting local beauty spots.
This doesn’t explain the uneven impact in London, where black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be issued FPNs for breaching lockdown rules. London’s population is made up 59% white groups, 12% black groups and 18% Asian groups. 46% of FPNs were issued to white people, 26% to black people and 23% to Asian people.
Black people were also disproportionately more likely to be arrested for breaches making up 31% of arrests compared with 38% for white people.
Lockdown breaches charged incorrectly
The first CPS review of cases brought under the Coronavirus Act found that all 44 had been incorrectly charged. 12 of the cases brought under Health Protection Regulations had also been charged incorrectly. The most recent review found a further 25 cases that had been charged incorrectly.
Court delays mean children are left with adult criminal records
In November 2019 the Guardian reported that court delays meant hundreds of children were being convicted and sentenced as adults. Children aged 10-17 would normally have their cases heard in the youth court which is better equipped to meet the needs of young defendants. By February 2020 delays in the youth court had already reached record levels. Since mid-March courts have suspended non-urgent hearings and most children will find their case has stalled. This is likely to increase the number of children who are convicted and sentenced as adults.
Sentencing in the youth justice system is primarily about rehabilitation and there are options that are not available for adults. Children who appear before the court after their 18th birthday will no longer have these options available to them. They will be sentenced as adults and their conviction will take twice as long to become spent. For example, a child who received a fine would have to declare it for 6 months. A child who, as a result of court delays, was convicted and sentenced as an adult, would have to declare the same fine for 12 months. This can create significant disadvantage for young adults who are applying for college or university, for car insurance or their first job.
The Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC) have published a report on delays, time limits and video link hearings for children.
The Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board to monitor delays in the youth court and investigate ways to ensure children whose cases are delayed are not saddled with an adult criminal record.
Finding a new job when unemployment is higher
The lockdown restrictions will have a disproportionate effect on people in temporary jobs and on zero-hours contracts. Many will now find themselves out of work. With fewer businesses predicted to be hiring in the next few months, PWCRs could find themselves overlooked.
Finding a new job is more difficult for PWCRs. About 75% of large employers ask about criminal records on application forms. 75% of PWCRs say they would avoid applying for a job where they were asked about criminal records on application. Generally, people don’t believe they’ll be treated fairly – and with good reason. 50% of employers say they would reject an applicant who declared a criminal record.
Food producers, supermarkets and other essential services are boosting their workforce. Applicants with a spent conviction won’t need to disclose it for these jobs. However, they may find the employer uses open source information – online news, or social media posts – to find out about their criminal record. Recruiters will usually ask about unspent convictions and sometimes have blanket bans on applicants with unspent convictions.
Employers who proactively recruit PWCRs report positive experiences, citing loyalty and reliability. Others recognise employment as key to reducing reoffending. People who can support themselves and their families are contributing to society and the economy. Without employment opportunities, people are forced to rely on the state. 1 in 3 Job Seekers’ Allowance claimants in 2010 had a criminal record. The cost of reoffending is £18bn a year.
As we look to an uncertain economic future, we can’t afford not to include law abiding people with criminal records. Government will need to consider how to support fair recruitment for people with criminal records at a time when unemployment is likely to be higher than in recent years.
Changing motivations for employers
Companies actively recruiting PWCRs do so for many reasons:
- HSS had difficulties with recruitment and retention.
- Halfords wanted to ensure a truly diverse workforce
- South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust aimed to develop opportunities for the local community.
The sudden loss of so many jobs means more people will be looking for work and some businesses may no longer have difficulty attracting applicants. This could lead to discrimination against PWCRs. On the other hand, skills shortages and retention difficulties are more complex than simply the number of applicants. The care sector has carried significant vacancies for the last few years. Thousands of agriculture jobs were filled by EU nationals who have either left or may be affected by the planned new immigration rules. Jobs in these sectors are not automatically more attractive to people who find themselves recently redundant from the airline or hospitality industries.
Employers should look to include people with criminal records in their business. Not because it’s socially responsible (though it is). Not because it helps make communities safer (though it does) but because recruiting reliable and loyal workers is essential to rebuilding the British economy.
The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) are providing two new services to support the response to Covid-19. The first is standard and enhanced checks free of charge for eligible roles. The second is fast-track checks of the barring lists within 24 hours. Prospective employers will receive confirmation that the applicant is not on the barred list and an enhanced certificate will be provided in time. These checks can be requested for voluntary or paid roles provided they are eligible.
These models create possible problems for applicants with criminal records. Free of charge checks may lead some employers to carry out higher level checks for ineligible roles, meaning people with cautions or spent convictions are at risk of being unfairly excluded from employment.
Fast-track barring checks could lead to problems later on where employers become aware of criminal records when the full check comes through. We’d like to think that an employee’s performance to date would be taken into account but employers tend to be risk averse. While most people with criminal records are not barred, we regularly see people with old and minor cautions and convictions rejected by health and social care employers.
The DBS’s approach raises questions about the existing ‘barring AND disclosure’ model. If a person is barred from regulated activity, a decision has been taken by the DBS that they are unsuitable for this work. If they are not barred, the person’s criminal record is shared with the employer to make a second decision around suitability.
The changes could signal an opportunity to rethink this approach, drawing on international comparisons. For example Spain uses the barring test as the only test of suitability for regulated roles, where employers need only seek confirmation that an applicant is not barred.
The DBS have responded quickly to the needs of some sectors and introduced these changes. It’s disappointing that they have not moved as quickly to bring the filtering rules in line with the law.
Applying for university this year
Although UCAS no longer collect criminal records information for all courses, some universities do. Courses leading to regulated professions – including medicine and teaching – require applicants to disclose criminal records that are not yet protected. We strongly encourage universities to carry out disclosure discussions in person. This gives applicants the chance to explain the circumstances and decision makers can ask questions and discuss concerns. While social distancing measures remain, we suggest the use of video conferencing facilities to enable applicants to take a full part in the assessment. This could remain an option in future for applicants who cannot attend in person.
Applying to university in the future
Universities face uncertainty in domestic and international admissions. This could be an opportunity for them to consider recognising students with criminal records as a widening participation group.
Prison leavers without a confirmed address will find it harder to source housing support due to office closures and remote provision of services.
People in approved premises and those in bail accommodation may find it harder to move on while social distancing restrictions remain in place. They will be isolated from friends and family and will be unable to access support services beyond those provided in-house. The lack of certainty may create or exacerbate anxiety and worry about the future and make a difficult transition even harder.
People on probation/licence
Calls to our helpline have identified some inconsistencies in the way that probation are currently delivering their services. This causes concern for individuals who are trying to adhere to their licence conditions and reporting requirements and avoid a potential recall to prison.
The inconsistency is, in part, due to the fact that 21 privately owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) work alongside the National Probation Service (NPS) to supervise people on licence or on community sentences. There has been no centralised guidance for people under CRC supervision. HMPPS have published a brief information sheet for those under NPS supervision.
People under supervision may be socially isolated as a result of social distancing measures and difficulties accessing support services.
People on the sex offenders register
There is a lack of consistency in arrangements across the country for dealing with visits to those on the register. At least one force has suspended all visits indefinitely, whilst others continue their visits unless an individual shows symptoms of Covid-19.
Police forces are under pressure and facing their own difficulties with staffing, but clear and accessible information to those who have reporting requirements will save effort in the long run. Provision of information should take into account restrictions on internet use – online information will be unavailable for many.