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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The Justice priorities of Unlock

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As things stand, a criminal record is for life, no matter how old or minor. This is despite knowing that, in particular, young people make mistakes when they’re young. In essence, young people should be allowed to fail. Ways to properly and fully ‘wipe the slate clean’ for minor offending should be established.

Christopher Stacey, Director of Services at Unlock – for people with convictions, is the latest to set out his top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove. You can follow @unlock2000 and @chrisstacey on Twitter.

1 Make further changes to when convictions become spent

Reforms in 2014 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act made a huge difference to thousands of people with convictions. However, they don’t go far enough. I would establish a system that involves an individual case assessment, which enables people sentenced to more than 4 years in prison to demonstrate how they’ve rehabilitated in the community, allowing their convictions to become spent.

A similar system would be open to those who have not yet reached the time-limit required by law. I’d also clean up the many technical anomalies with the current law which came about as a result of the reforms, such as how motoring convictions have a default 5 year rehabilitation period, and the ridiculous way that ‘ancillary’ court orders often lengthen the rehabilitation period for a particular conviction.

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2  Establish a ‘wipe the slate clean’ policy

As things stand, a criminal record is for life, no matter how old or minor. This is despite knowing that, in particular, young people make mistakes when they’re young. In essence, young people should be allowed to fail. Ways to properly and fully ‘wipe the slate clean’ for minor offending should be established.

Recent measures to ‘filter’ minor disposals for certain types of employment checks are limited and only came about due to legal challenges. I would establish a system that makes sure old and minor convictions and cautions are not disclosed on criminal record checks. This would apply to multiple convictions, more offence categories than currently covered by filtering, and would apply to prison sentences too.

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3 Lead from the front by ‘banning the box’ across Government

Alongside changes in government policy, there’s a role for more proactive and positive business practice when dealing with the recruitment of people with a criminal record. For example, the ‘Ban the Box’ initiative aims to deal with a common problem amongst mainstream employers – the use of ‘tick boxes’ about convictions on application forms as a way of determining an applicants’ suitability.

The approach of this initiative enables people with convictions to put themselves forward first and foremost on an equal playing field and competing for jobs on their skills and merit. Early indications show the potential for such positive practice to be adopted as a matter of routine, and I would work to embed this into recruitment practice across all Government departments and agencies. I would also look to follow the US example by looking to write this kind of practice into employment law.

 

The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be. Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling


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3 Responses

  1. Christopher Stacey’s comments are entirely accurate I work with people who have ‘offended’ when they were children, not even of responsible age, and yet their ‘crimes’ are still displayed on a DBS after more than 35 years: as if the event was a couple of years ago.

    Politicians need to understand that whilst they, in the main, have the ability to return the proceeds of ‘accounting errors’ the rest of the populace do not share this luxury and some of the people I work with have developed mental health issues in regard to being ‘locked in’ to the term offender, ex-offender or criminal.

    The initial ‘tinker’ in March 2014 (to a 40 year old ROA) was a start: please not make wholesale changes to an appalling piece of legislation that holds millions to ransom!

  2. I was an habitual offender (shoplifting) for well over 15years maybe longer but I have not been in any kind of trouble for almost the last decade so do you knw if my convictions will still show if I were to apply for a job like filling shelves, would it matter if i wanted to work with children?

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