Unlocking Experience is a project that suppored our overarching work to influence policy around criminal records and disclosure, and introduced a new approach to it.

One of our strategic objectives is to promote a more just and equal society where people with convictions can move on positively in their lives. Through our support work we hear the voices of people living with convictions and the problems that they are facing.

We have a powerful track record of influencing policy. This project enabled us to build a clearer policy strategy and action plan based on a body of evidence, including investigating, highlighting and seeking solutions to structural barriers where young people, women and BAME people with convictions are encountering additional disadvantage as a result of their criminal record.

Through this project collate and analyse data, primarily drawing on data from our helpline and other support work to identify recurring, systemic and structural issues that could be resolved through changes in policy.

The project produced evidence – drawn directly from the experience of people with convictions, including those who can look back on their conviction(s) with a clearer hindsight and perspective. This evidence directed future advocacy work for Unlock and suggest policy directions for the wider criminal justice and social inclusion agendas.

It ensured that our policy work is well-informed and evidence-based. It enabled us to articulate our position on key issues more clearly, establishing a solid foundation for our work in ‘speaking truth to power’.


The project involved:

  1. Collecting evidence by engaging with people through our helpline, forum, social media, surveys and calls for evidence.
  2. Analysing the policy landscape and identifying opportunities to influence and engage with key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Disclosure and Barring Service, Department for Work and Pensions, as well as responding to relevant government reviews and enquiries.
  3. Disseminating the impact of our casework where there is a policy and/or ‘good practice’ dimension.

This project also involved analysing specific additional issues that may have a particular impact on groups with criminal records – such as those associated with youth, gender and ethnicity.

We brought new evidence for structural and practical change to policymakers, helping them be better informed and equipped to develop more effective policies and services.

An important factor in this project was the involvement of a wider range of voices, not only those that have been to prison. Unlock works with a range for people with criminal records; people with custodial and non-custodial sentences and those who find that the full negative impact of having a conviction, of any sort, may not fully emerge until long after that conviction.

Links to reports

  1. A life sentence for young people – A report into the impact of criminal records acquired in childhood and early adulthood (May 2018)
  2. Double discrimination? The impact of criminal records on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (July 2019)
  3. ‘Angels or witches’ The impact of criminal records on women (March 2021)

Find out more

We posted updated to this work under the news category Unlocking Experience

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