The criminal records system is hampering the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, according to new figures. Nearly three quarters of the million or so convictions revealed to employers each year in criminal records checks are more than a decade old. Only around 5,000 – one in 197 – are considered relevant to a person’s job application.
The figures, released after a freedom of information request, have prompted fresh calls for overhaul of the system administered by the Disclosure and Barring Service. It has also led to claims that relying on the checks creates a culture of complacency among employers.
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which unearthed the information, found that, out of a total of 4.2m requests for disclosure of criminal records in 2015, just 6% produced any criminal record information. This involved 1,020,111 recorded convictions; 742,482 dated back a decade or more. About 700 – 0.018% – related to sexual offences. Only 5,167 were deemed by the centre to be relevant to the job a person was applying for. “We were really struck that hundreds of thousands of disclosures related to historic offences,” said Roger Grimshaw, research director at the centre. “A lot can change in a decade or more. It’s important that mistakes of the distant past do not prejudice people’s chances of employment and rehabilitation.”
Requests for disclosure of criminal records are commonly believed to be made for employers offering jobs involving positions of trust, such as teachers, care workers or solicitors. But checks can be requested by any firm whose employees have contact with children or vulnerable adults.
“Over four million roles every year involve an enhanced DBS check, and although these were designed for jobs that involve close contact with children and vulnerable groups, it’s gone way beyond that now,” said Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, a charity for people with convictions. “Unlock regularly gets contacted by people who have been asked to do an enhanced check to be a delivery driver or a receptionist.”
Last week The Times reported that a qualified teacher had lost two jobs after his rape acquittal in 2011 was disclosed in criminal records checks.A recent report by Labour MP David Lammysuggested that the current criminal records regime was holding back black and minority ethnic people.Earlier this year the Law Commission recognised that there was a tension between the pressure for disclosure and the need to help an offender with rehabilitation. It stated: “The law regulating the circumstances in which an individual is obliged to reveal his or her criminal record must strike a careful balance between providing that individual with an opportunity for rehabilitation (for his or her past offending to be ‘forgotten’) and ensuring that there is adequate protection in place to guard against the risk that the individual might reoffend and that, as a result, harm may be caused.”
In 2013 the “filtering” of convictions was introduced, to ensure that old cautions and convictions that had not resulted in a custodial sentence would not be disclosed. However, all convictions still have to be disclosed if someone has more than one.
“This can affect somebody who stole two chocolate bars when they were 14 and they’re now in their 50s,” Stacey said. “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.”
Unlock has called for introduction of a criminal records tribunal, so individuals could apply not to have their criminal records disclosed in particular circumstances.
Source: The Guardian