‘Anchoring, everlasting, uncertainty, resilience’: Researching the impact of criminal records acquired in youth

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Nicola Collett, a PhD student at Keele University, is currently researching the potential influence of a criminal record acquired between the ages of 10-25, later on in adulthood. Here she blogs about some of her findings so far.

Almost three years into my PhD I am spending much of my time surrounded by scribbles, highlights and post-it-it-notes as I continue to draw together the key ‘themes’ and ideas which came out from the interviews I conducted. In a recent research update I shared that I had been to Ghent to present preliminary findings and ideas which this blog will discuss in more detail. The four themes I highlighted in this presentation are: ‘anchoring’, ‘everlasting’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘resilience’. Whilst the thesis is still a work in progress I hope this blog will help give some indication of the experiences captured in this research. Thank you again to those who took part and placed their trust in me.



“…it was a really traumatic erm period of time in my life so when I have to disclose it or talk about it not only I’ve got the actions of the things I’ve done wrong…I’ve got the erm context of it all as well…which for me feels worse it’s like…I don’t know a little bit re-tr- re-traumatising”



“…this caution had an effect on me for…years. Literally for years. You know…it caused me a lot of grief in the sense that I had to re-live that situation over and over again”


Throughout our lives we take part in interviews and assessments, fill in various different forms and go through an array of sorting processes designed to filtering people as they try to access different opportunities. This occurs in variety of life domains from employment and volunteering to insurance and travel. This has become a common often taken for granted feature of our lives. However, for several of my participants these processes can be emotionally harmful as they require not only the disclosure of a criminal record but further explanation of the context of their offending. This is the anchoring affect whereby individuals are emotionally drawn back to a time in their lives where they may have faced victimisation, trauma, addictions and other significant difficulties. It was explained to me that this experience of disclosure could be humiliating, embarrassing and felt to be deeply invasive.


“…it’s had an impact on my life when I thought it was done you know? I thought I’d I’d reinvented myself I’d left that life behind. I’ve I’ve done everythin’ since I’ve done volunteerin’ I’ve worked […] I came from nothin’ […] all I’ve done is jump through hurdles…for like ten years […] I’ve had a clean slate throughout uni nothin’s gone wrong but still…this is apparently the pinnacle of my life that should dictate where I can go”


The long-term enduring nature of a criminal record has been discussed by Unlock  and other criminal record scholars and campaigners. Indeed, the everlasting effect of having interacted with the criminal justice system at a young age was something the majority of my participants discussed. Those in early adulthood shared how they felt nervous and lived with a degree of anxiety at the potential for their criminal record to resurface later in life. In contrast, those later in adulthood reflected back on how they had personally experienced the criminal record as everlasting, resurfacing after many years of it not being disclosed. There was a real sense of not being able to fully move on despite having developed maturity and grown older with more life experience.


“I think it’s always that thought I think it’s always there I think it’s always that… that thing in the back of ya mind… that it will stop ya from from future opportunities from travelling erm from future job prospects”


Linking very closely to the everlasting potential of having a historical youth record disclosed later in life is the third theme uncertainty. Due to the knowledge that their criminal record may resurface almost all my participants, even those who felt they had been successful thus far, acknowledged a degree of uncertainty over their future plans. Indeed, whilst individuals felt they had a degree of control over their lives and have found ways to access opportunities, there was an awareness of their vulnerability to external changes in law and policy. For some this uncertainty was only a slight concern whilst for others it was a significant issue causing them to worry about future romantic relationships, travel post-Brexit and the ability to attain and advance in employment. At the time of writing we are all living through increased uncertainty due to the global pandemic, and I am wondering how this might be affecting those with criminal records who may need to seek new employment. Life is truly unpredictable and the added layer of precariousness given by having a criminal record further complicates things.


“…the thing that I um you know I rate myself for is that fact that I I stood strong…and I persevered do you know what I mean?…I never I never like let it get me down”


Whilst much of this blog post has captured the negatives and difficulties associated with living with a criminal record, my interviews with participants covered a range of different emotions. Through the tears and the anger was laughter and strength. As such, I am keen to ensure I acknowledge the positivity and ‘can do’ attitude some of my participants had. Whilst largely experiences were negative, many of those I spoke to discussed their motivation and drive to succeed despite the potential obstacles living with a criminal record creates. This resilience was shown by many and it was something people spoke proudly of.

NOTE: names have been changed

Read Nicola’s previous updates about her research

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