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Black women with criminal records face harsher barriers to employment
Black women with criminal records face harsher barriers to employment - report from Working Chance

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Worst case scenario

New (29 June 2021) research from Working Chance, a charity supporting women with criminal convictions into employment, has confirmed that women of colour with criminal records face tougher challenges in securing jobs, progressing in their careers, and getting their lives back on track than white women in a similar position, with Black women facing the highest hurdles. The report shows how long after their sentences are over, racially minoritised women face harsher consequences due to their criminal records. Most employers are hesitant to hire candidates with criminal records so minoritised women are effectively excluded from the job opportunities they need to rebuild their lives and support their families.

Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been much scrutiny of racial inequalities in policing. This report highlights how racism in criminal justice affects women long after completing their sentence.

Women are almost three times less likely to be employed upon release from prison compared to men, according to a previous study by Working Chance and the Prison Reform Trust. According to a review of employer attitudes, 75% of employers admit to discriminating against applicants with a criminal record.

This discrimination affects women more than men, as research has shown that women are almost twice as likely as men to have their criminal records disclosed on a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, partly because the professions
that women tend to enter, such as education and care work, require enhanced DBS checks.

Key findings

On top of the usual barriers for people with criminal convictions seeking work, the Working Chance research found more specific barriers for racially minoritised women, who are more likely to:

Face stigma and rejection, including in their communities
Racially minoritised women can suffer acute stigma and shame after they receive a conviction, preventing effective reintegration to their communities. These attitudes can provoke low self-esteem, which in turn inhibits women from applying for jobs and performing effectively.

Be hindered from progressing in their careers
Racially minoritised people are more likely to perceive the workplace as hostile and are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly in the workplace. They are less likely than white individuals to access opportunities to progress in their careers.

Struggle with volunteering and apprenticeships
Racially minoritised people have poorer volunteering experiences and are less likely than white volunteers to continue volunteering. Meanwhile, 23% fewer racially minoritised workers obtain apprenticeships compared to white workers. Barriers to apprenticeships can prevent racially minoritised women from advancing their career, which contributes to the unemployment gap.

Have employment-related anxiety during the pandemic
Data from the pandemic shows that 65% of women from racially minoritised communities report anxiety as a result of having to go out to work. This indicates that even with a situation that is affecting nearly everyone, racially minoritised women are more negatively affected.

Be at risk of reoffending
Research suggests that employment is one of the surest ways to prevent reoffending. The data shows that people leaving prison who find work on release are 5-10% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. When racially minoritised women cannot secure meaningful, sustainable employment, they are more at risk of reoffending and therefore more likely to be trapped in the cycle of criminalisation.


The report concludes with a series of recommendations for both government and employers. The five recommendations for government are reproduced below:

  1. Address racial inequality in the criminal justice system, starting with implementing overdue recommendations in the Lammy Review and commitments in the Female Offender Strategy. The new Female Offender Minority Ethnic Working Group set up by the Ministry of Justice should look specifically at reducing racial disparities in access to and outcomes for employment.
  2. Commission an independent review that focuses specifically on disparities in treatment of and outcomes for racially minoritised women in the criminal justice system.
  3. Gather and publish more accurate,  disaggregated data that enables analysis by gender in combination with different ethnic groups and religions as variables. Statistics should additionally be published regarding non-custodial sentences and probation, and include employment outcomes.
  4. Fund specialised support in the community to meet the needs of racially minoritised women. The Ministry of Justice should partner with and support specialist community organisations already doing this work.
  5. Increase representation of racially minoritised women in government, particularly the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice and HMPPS, through specialised recruitment schemes and by reviewing vetting and security processes to encourage the recruitment of people with lived experience.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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