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Discrimination Concept
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

The impact of criminal records on people from BAME backgrounds

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Double disadvantage? Unlock report examines the extra difficulties of trying to find a job if you are BAME and have a criminal record.

Yesterday (15 July 2019) Unlock, the country’s leading charity for people with convictions, published new research on the impact of criminal records as perceived by people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

This report is based on the survey responses from 221 individuals. It provides new data on the impact of criminal records as perceived by people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and it draws on what is known about the over-criminalisation of certain groups. Key findings from the survey include:

  • Over three-quarters of people (78%) felt that their ethnic background had made the problems they face as a result of their criminal record harder. Around 1 in 5 (22%) felt that it had made no difference. Nobody from a BAME background felt that their ethnicity made things easier.
  • The overwhelming majority (79%) cited employment as one of the problems they faced. The other most common problems were relationships (34%), volunteering (30%), insurance (26%), travel/immigration (23%) and college/university/education (23%).
  • The problems persisted for long periods of time. Although the majority were last cautioned/convicted between 1 and 10 years ago (32% between 1 and 5 years ago, with 30.8% between 5 and 10 years ago), 15% had problems between 10 and 20 years later and 7% had problems over 20 years later.
  • It affects all age groups. The problems people faced because of their ethnicity spanned the full age range, the full range of sentences and a wide range of offences types.
  • African and Caribbean individuals were most affected. Problems were faced by a range of ethnic groups, but the largest proportions were African (17.8%) and Caribbean (13.4%).

We know from the Lammy Report that people from some BAME backgrounds are disproportionately represented at all stages of the criminal justice system, and this affects both their experience and perception of how ethnicity compounds the difficulties created by a criminal record.

Unlock found that respondents faced multiple difficulties as a result of their criminal record. Most respondents cited employment (79.4%) as one of the problems they faced.21 Employment was cited almost three times as often as any other problem area. The other most common problems were relationships (34%), volunteering (30.4%, insurance (26.3%), travel/immigration (22.7%) and college/university/education (22.7%). A key graphic from the report is reproduced below:

Visible and invisible discrimination

However, whereas ethnicity can be a visible characteristic to employers, a criminal record is not. When looking specifically at those with a criminal record, combining the attitudes of employers towards criminal records with the differences in employment rates between different ethnic groups, it is likely that BAME groups would be better served by widespread improvements in employer practices towards criminal records, such as Ban the Box. If employers did not find out about the criminal record of an applicant until after they had offered a conditional job offer, it would become much clearer whether an employer’s decision not to hire was based on the applicant’s criminal record. It would also avoid many of the connections and stereotypes that were referred to by survey respondents:

“I think that having a fraud conviction and being of an African background feeds into the stereotype held about Nigerians. I have dreadlocks and I’ve had to change my name to afford me a foot in the door, so to speak.”
“The conviction(s) should not have to be disclosed unless employers are going to offer you the new position, and only if it is relevant to the post applied for.”

Conclusion

Most people surveyed for this report believed their ethnicity has made it harder to overcome the problems they face because of their criminal record. The discrimination faced by people from BAME individuals who have a criminal record may not be ‘double’, but the difficulties they face are certainly cumulative.

The perceptions of many of those surveyed were that the way the criminal record disclosure rules operate means that, had they been white, their past offences would have not caused them as many problems. This may be because, for example, they may not have been prosecuted, or the sentence they received would have been lower and therefore spent earlier.

Unlock summarises its findings:

“Black and Asian defendants have consistently been given the longest average custodial sentence length since 2012. Harsher sentences take longer to become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, if they ever do, meaning a criminal record will cause more difficulties for longer. This is an additional penalty for Black and Asian defendants. What David Lammy refers to as the double penalty can in fact be a triple penalty – the ethnic penalty, the criminal penalty and then the disclosure penalty.”

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