Unlock: the challenge in the Supreme Court.

A consequence of conviction.

I can hardly recall meeting a person who’s been through the criminal justice system and has found it easy to get on in life thereafter. When I met Michaela Booth it was because she had been recently rejected for a job that she’d already been offered. Despite the fact that her conviction had occurred years before, when the employer found out the offer was withdrawn. She wasn’t suddenly a different person, but she was seen differently.

Michaela’s plight is a common one. For people who have been in prison the situation can be awful. Some, like Gethin Jones, are able to fight through, but others are so battered down that they just give up. The social stigma is such that the informal economy is often the only realistic option for employment.

Of course there’s the other way to make serious money, which a conviction will almost always provide access to: fraud, fencing and of course drugs. They’re pretty appealing offers when there’s nothing else with which to provide food for kids, pay bills, find a home, or any other aspect of daily survival.

The stigma of the label

The current system is pretty absurd:

Tag someone with a label, exclude them from living a socially productive life, and then…..expect them to live a socially productive life.

Of course many of the ten million people with convictions are able to carry on with their lives, but unnecessary impediments are socially debilitating. Indeed, the latter part of Injustice focuses on just this issue, as you can see below:

Of course some crimes committed perhaps make one unsuitable for a role. Someone who committed fraud is unlikely to become an accountant… even though in the actual practice of accounting, it might be considered an extra qualification! Indeed as a person who was imprisoned for embezzlement put it to me: “I’m great at fund raising”, and they are indeed! But what of more minor crimes?

The problem of minor crimes in the past

Many of the ten million who committed minor crimes, or whose crimes were many years ago are prevented from getting jobs because of the Disclosure and Barring Service, which can carry the mark of conviction for whole lives.

The charity Unlock relates two stories of the impact of minor convictions: Michael and Anita.

Michael’s Story

Michael (not his real name) was 17 when he  was convicted of theft of a coat from a market stall. He was fined £30. Ten months later, 23 days after turning 18, he was convicted of stealing a motor cycle and driving without insurance.

He was fined £50 and sentenced to 24 hours at an attendance centre.

That was 36 years ago; he’s come a long way since then. He’s now in his fifties. However, Michael’s long-forgotten past has come back to haunt him and he’s concerned about his work as a finance director. He could lose his job and a career that he’s worked hard for.

Anita’s Story

Then there’s Anita (not her real name). When she was 11, she was playing with a lighter in the girls’ bathroom at school and set a toilet roll alight causing around £100 of damage. She was arrested for Arson and told that the reprimand she was given would come off her record when she turned 19.

Then after months of being bullied in secondary school, she was involved in a fight. She and the other pupil were both arrested for Actual Bodily Harm. She was encouraged by the police to accept a reprimand rather than challenge it in court and was told it would come off her record in five years. Now nearly in her thirties, she’s a qualified English teacher. However, not only was her record not removed like she was told it would be, but her two reprimands come up on enhanced DBS checks and will do under the current DBS rules for the rest of her life.

The hopelessness of trying to find work has led her to working abroad and to bouts of depression and anxiety.

To challenge this situation Unlock has launched a Crowd Justice Appeal to intervene in a Supreme Court case in June of this year to challenge the Government’s approach to disclosing old and minor criminal records.

You can read more about Unlock’s campaign here and if you feel you can donate or support, you can do that here