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Dave Beans

Should Criminal Records Be Scrapped?

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/20/scrap-criminal-records-exoffender-employment

A criminal record does nothing more than recite the wrongs someone once committed without saying what they've done right since, says Mark Johnson

The government and its burgeoning "back to work" service providers are right to try to get ex-offenders back into society through employment. However, they could be overlooking the fastest, easiest way to do this. Any number of schemes now teach prisoners employment skills and interview technique, but what's the point when the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) is busy sending out pieces of paper that might as well be P45s?

CRB checks have become such a feature of modern employment practice that no one questions them. Well, now is the time.

Stop, right now. Look around you in the workplace. Ask yourself how many of the people you really know? How much do you know about their past and even their present? Admit that you know very little, so little that employers are probably safer with an ex-offender who has discussed his past and his new life openly. A clean CRB check gives a sense of security that may be entirely false, but it's probably the narrowest way of measuring risk. The fact is that most employers only have to glimpse a criminal record and they run a mile.

A CRB check does nothing more than recite the wrongs someone once committed without saying what they've done right since. Employers, like most of the public, are media-educated about crime. They've been subjected to self-righteous outrage without knowing anything about the factors that lead to the offence in the first place, or the hard work that has gone into overcoming those factors. When you put the facts in their hands, they can too often use them to discriminate. The offender has already been punished by incarceration, but society now continues to punish him for the rest of his life in slow instalments, simply by stigmatising him.

Discrimination should be outlawed. I recently received a letter from a prolific ex-offender who has made it into a managerial position in a charity, but when her past was disclosed there was uproar. The chief executive asked her to write a "letter of atonement" to be read by everyone in the organisation. That's discrimination. The ex-offender has served her time and is trying to give back to society much more than she ever took. Asking her to humiliate and abase herself before colleagues is a contravention of her basic human rights. And if she is one of the more able ex-offenders, what is happening to the rest?

It is not always necessary for an employer to know about the past. There are many offenders who will slip easily into a working life and who pose little risk to employers. They should be sent out of jail without a stigmatising criminal record and allowed to get on with their lives. The service providers scrambling to reshape themselves in the new image of welfare to work demanded by the new government are rushing to work with this easy-to-help group. But true intervention should be more demanding than this. Many ex-offenders don't have the emotional stability to work a nine-to-five day and they need therapeutic interventions, not superficial classes in interview technique. Organisations that commission services should discuss with the service users what their needs are.

When employers must be informed by the CRB about someone's past, they need a toolkit to help them interpret it, and a chance to familiarise themselves with the ex-offender's new life so that they can put this information in context. But the CRB only provides information without giving help in using it effectively, so the employer inevitably tries to play safe by avoiding offenders.

There are a couple more things the government can do. When large organisations bid for money for interventions to put ex-offenders back into work, those organisations should be employing ex-offenders themselves.

Finally, the government should look to its own appalling record in this area. As the nation's biggest employer, it has failed miserably to lead by example and put ex-offenders on its own payroll. The best way to show the UK that it's time to stop discriminating against those with criminal records is for the government to recognise the special skills and contribution ex-offenders can make by lifting its bar and actually employing them.

• Mark Johnson, a rehabilitated offender and former drug user, is an author and the founder of the charity Uservoice.

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In fairness, and I speak as a crim, why should special dispensations be made for those who - voluntarily - broke the law? Those with criminal records must learn the brutul truth that their sentence in no way gains them closure. Quite simply - if life is dealing them a sh*tty hand - they have no recourse to self-pity. Cause and effect, innit.

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In fairness, and I speak as a crim, why should special dispensations be made for those who - voluntarily - broke the law? Those with criminal records must learn the brutul truth that their sentence in no way gains them closure. Quite simply - if life is dealing them a sh*tty hand - they have no recourse to self-pity. Cause and effect, innit.

True, but should all criminals be treated the same, or should we differentiate them, depending on the seriousness of their crime?

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In fairness, and I speak as a crim, why should special dispensations be made for those who - voluntarily - broke the law? Those with criminal records must learn the brutul truth that their sentence in no way gains them closure. Quite simply - if life is dealing them a sh*tty hand - they have no recourse to self-pity. Cause and effect, innit.

Great reply! Spoken like a true Daily Mail reader.

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True, but should all criminals be treated the same, or should we differentiate them, depending on the seriousness of their crime?

Of course, but the author is complaining that ex-criminals are 'unfairly' stigmatised. The way I see it, society has every right to judge; I couldn't really give two figs for the touchy-feely 'let's try and understand what drove him to offend' malarkey. There's been a number of job vacancies (Governmental which means the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 doesn't apply) where I was positive that I wasn't short-listed due to disclosing my conviction; assuming I was correct in my assumption, boo-friggidy-hoo.

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True, but should all criminals be treated the same, or should we differentiate them, depending on the seriousness of their crime?

Type and seriousness of the crime should be relevant. I would go for some kind of formula for total erasure of all data in a criminal record at the point someone had gone X years without committing an offense where X depends on what they did in the first place. E.g. shoplifting £20 could be erased after 5 years of being clean whereas serial rape never would stay there pretty much forever.

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With the way British companies hire now if you have a criminal record you cannot get hardly any job. So that often forces the person onto long term unemployment or back into criminal activity to make money.

Imo the public should not be allowed access to someone's criminal record. It should be kept by the state for reference incase they re-offend but not to the public.

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Type and seriousness of the crime should be relevant. I would go for some kind of formula for total erasure of all data in a criminal record at the point someone had gone X years without committing an offense where X depends on what they did in the first place. E.g. shoplifting £20 could be erased after 5 years of being clean whereas serial rape never would stay there pretty much forever.

That system's already in place (see the above Act). Some convictions depending on their severity can be considered 'spent' (and therefore not obliged to disclose to employers etc). There's a scaling system however any custodial sentence over 18 months will never be considered spent. The only clause to this was the amendment in 1975 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which deemed certain industries or jobs would not be covered by this system; therefore most jobs in Government, communications or caring for the elderly/children will still need to disclose their conviction/s, spent or not.

Edit: If I recall, something like a caution would be spent after 1 year, probation after 5 years and a short custodial sentence after 10 years.

Edited by Sibley's Love Child

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Type and seriousness of the crime should be relevant. I would go for some kind of formula for total erasure of all data in a criminal record at the point someone had gone X years without committing an offense where X depends on what they did in the first place. E.g. shoplifting £20 could be erased after 5 years of being clean whereas serial rape never would stay there pretty much forever.

I think that would be a moderately fair way. For instance, should ppl be punished for stupid things when they were kids? Such as shoplifting... If they keep their noses clean for x number of years, then expunge their record. Although if you get a conviction whilst your young, getting that first job must be even more difficult - in a way, is that sort of their punishment?

Sort of, as an addition to this - can ex-offenders get credit?

Edited by Dave Beans

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As someone convicted over 20 years ago for for offences that although technically "serious", involved no physical harm to anyone, which occurred whilst drunk and when barely out of my teenage years, it does seem a bit harsh that such an escapade can be held against me for the rest of my life. Many people have done stupid shit when young. If no-one was hurt, and if nothing similar is likely to ever happen again, why should that be held against me for ever?

Not looking for sympathy, just saying that many people do stupid stuff as kids and learn from it. Some get caught and some don't. I can probably never be admitted to the US/Canada/Australia etc if I tell the truth about my past even though I know that as an adult I present no threat whatsoever to the local population. Seems a bit harsh to me but that's the way it is.

Edit: Luckily for me, my current employer (who I've been with for 18 years) is aware of my past and given that I'm a good and loyal employee, is prepared to overlook what was a stupid youthful mistake because I do a good job. Not sure what would happen if I had to find a new job but I'm very grateful that my CEO sees through the ******** and recognises that stupid shit can happen (especially when young) but it doesn't mean that someone should be consigned to the scrapheap.

Edited by salamander

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That system's already in place (see the above Act). Some convictions depending on their severity can be considered 'spent' (and therefore not obliged to disclose to employers etc). There's a scaling system however any custodial sentence over 18 months will never be considered spent. The only clause to this was the amendment in 1975 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which deemed certain industries or jobs would not be covered by this system; therefore most jobs in Government, communications or caring for the elderly/children will still need to disclose their conviction/s, spent or not.

Edit: If I recall, something like a caution would be spent after 1 year, probation after 5 years and a short custodial sentence after 10 years.

It's more complex than that - records are still kept but just don't show up on some types of report if the person remembers to make an application to have them removed. I'm fairly sure everything stays on CRB check reports forever for example. When I say erase, I mean literally - all official electronic records online and offline deleted and all paper records burned.

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It's more complex than that - records are still kept but just don't show up on some types of report if the person remembers to make an application to have them removed. I'm fairly sure everything stays on CRB check reports forever for example. When I say erase, I mean literally - all official electronic records online and offline deleted and all paper records burned.

Criminal records are deleted. When my friend tried to find about his record for dealing cannabis ten years previous he was told that they had no record of it. It was gone and that was the end of it.

Its pretty much as Sibley's Love Child described it.

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Certain kinds of bank robbery does not even find its way onto the criminal records system simply because no convictions were ever made. Thus, Banksters commit the crimes and the stigma lasts as long as the public remain cross and remember who it was that ripped off their pension, their savings and their futures.

Whereas, a conviction for a minor theft could potentially ruin someone's career.

IMO, the record should be destroyed after the passage of a number of years, depending on the crime. The current system under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the idea of a "spent" conviction is misrepresentative of the truth and is in itself a crime of deception. If a conviction is "spent" it should be erased--fully.

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I doubt it is possible to live your life in the UK without breaking criminal law at some time ... and even if you do live a life of a monk, there are still laws you won't know about that you can break, ignorance is no deffense.

For many minor offences, criminal records just differentiate between those that got caught, and those that didn't, in no way does not having a criminal record proove a person to be anymore respectable than someone that does.

Edited by Snagger

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That system's already in place (see the above Act). Some convictions depending on their severity can be considered 'spent' (and therefore not obliged to disclose to employers etc). There's a scaling system however any custodial sentence over 18 months will never be considered spent. The only clause to this was the amendment in 1975 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which deemed certain industries or jobs would not be covered by this system; therefore most jobs in Government, communications or caring for the elderly/children will still need to disclose their conviction/s, spent or not.

And even if the exact details of how that system works could do with being revisited, the principle itself seems to me to be the best compromise between the loony left Guardian position (which is almost that committing crime - any crime - shouldn't be illegal) and the hanging and flogging tendency.

The two factors in the equation should be the nature of the crime, i.e. its relevance to any particular job you're applying for, and the seriousness of the crime and thus the severity of the punishment. For example, if I'm thinking of employing someone as a bus driver, I want to know if they have any drink-driving convictions, but a conviction for shoplifting is largely irrelevant. Assuming the drink-driver didn't kill anybody, I've got no problem with him not having to disclose his conviction to anyone (except a car insurance company) after a few years, assuming he hasn't committed any further offences, but if he ploughed his car into a crowded bus queue and wiped out dozens of people, then that's a different scenario altogether. Likewise, you don't want someone who's been done for buggering five year-old boys working as a teaching assistant in a primary school, but they might perhaps be able to work in a factory or warehouse that has no kids on the premises.

One possible way of achieving this would be to have the CRB make a judgement call in each case as to whether it's appropriate to notify details of a given conviction in each individual circumstances, based on a set of criteria designed to give employers information that could materially affect the candidate's suitability for the job, but not information that doesn't. But such a system would need to be designed very carefully to prevent error and abuse.

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As I have said before, I spent most of my teenage years in Local Authority Children's Homes, Local Authority Secure Accomodation and then Young Offenders Institutes. My last sentence at age 16 kept me in custody until I was nearly 19.

I now work with young offenders. I think some of the young people with whom I work, will continue to be a danger to women/children/homeowners/drivers/pedestrians (delete as appropriate) until the day they die. Whilst others have had a real shi**y start in life and just need a bit of direction from someone who does not want to use them. The problem is recognising that difference in risk. It is not a job that I would want to do.

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As we offer no treatment to cure people of bad behaviour everyone has to struggle on their own merit once they've dirtied their copybook.

Whilst there are some that might argue that it stops you having a chance, then the counter argument to that is to put people down once they have committed a crime. It's not like there's a shortage of people.

Whilst for a first caution that might be a bit harsh perhaps it's something we should think about for habitual criminals.

There's some research been done to show that heroin changes the brain structure and your chances of recovering from addiction are very slim. We could save the effort involved in that by eliinating all smackheads too.

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With the way British companies hire now if you have a criminal record you cannot get hardly any job. So that often forces the person onto long term unemployment or back into criminal activity to make money.

Imo the public should not be allowed access to someone's criminal record. It should be kept by the state for reference incase they re-offend but not to the public.

No. I'd agree with Sibley's LC. If you are hiring people to a position of trust and responsibility, you have a duty of care to your business, your employees and, depending on the nature of the work, those in your charge. If somebody has a track record for theft, assault, interference, it is entirely appropriate that employers are able to make an informed decision in order to act in the best interests of their existing staff and their company.

This is part of the 'taking the consequences' rap of real life, it serves a practical purpose and should not be diluted by political correctness. This suggestion is typical of Labour's nannying approach and disregards the need for people to become 'grown ups' and take responsibility for themselves.

Also, there is the liability issue if a previous repeat offender is hired then re-offends. Who would be culpable?

OTOH a sliding scale would be useful since shoplifting a loaf of break should not prejudice someone's chances of employment years later.

Edited by The Dragon

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True, but should all criminals be treated the same, or should we differentiate them, depending on the seriousness of their crime?

I agree.

And I don't even think that it's got anything to do with the seriousness of a crime.

Why, for instance, should a habitual thief be forbidden by the system from working with children. I don't see any correlation there at all

tim

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Are companies able to check the criminal records of immigrants that they take on ?

Of course. For the appropriate fee, Dr. Altaka Yurmani of the Nigerian Central Office of Criminal Records (PO Box 254, Lagos) can provide all the information you require.

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No. I'd agree with Sibley's LC. If you are hiring people to a position of trust and responsibility, you have a duty of care to your business, your employees and, depending on the nature of the work, those in your charge. If somebody has a track record for theft, assault, interference, it is entirely appropriate that employers are able to make an informed decision in order to act in the best interests of their existing staff and their company.

This is part of the 'taking the consequences' rap of real life, it serves a practical purpose and should not be diluted by political correctness. This suggestion is typical of Labour's nannying approach and disregards the need for people to become 'grown ups' and take responsibility for themselves.

Also, there is the liability issue if a previous repeat offender is hired then re-offends. Who would be culpable?

OTOH a sliding scale would be useful since shoplifting a loaf of break should not prejudice someone's chances of employment years later.

Labour was also a big fan of culpability and legal risks for companies almost forcing them to never take risks.

I'm also against this whole litigation/liability culture.

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I agree.

And I don't even think that it's got anything to do with the seriousness of a crime.

Why, for instance, should a habitual thief be forbidden by the system from working with children. I don't see any correlation there at all

tim

It wouldn't necessarily mean he'd be likely to molest a child. I wouldn't want my children associating with an habitual thief, during their formative years, though :unsure:.

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