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Access to criminal convictions records could cause excessive discrimination

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A new report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has warned of possible results of the Police Act 1997, which will come fully into force next year. The report has warned that under ‘Basic Disclosure’ in the Act, recruiters will be able to access job applicants’ criminal records. Convictions would be very likely to count against them, even if irrelevant to the employment.

The Criminal Records Bureau is preparing its Disclosure service for operation next year. To use it, organisations will be have to register first. Disclosures will be funded by a £12 charge. To use them within the guidelines, comapnies will need to specify in job adverts that disclosure will be applied for.

People leaving prison frequently have difficulty entering employment, and as a group they have high rates of illiteracy, homelessness and drug dependency, and they often lack qualifications. The study suggests that a prior criminal record is not currently a primary factor in this low emplyment rate, since employers tend not to know about it. However, when the Act comes into force this is expected to change, as employers will have much better accees to records. The concern expressed in the report is that this will prevent many people with any convictions from getting any work. Since employment is seen as a major issue in rehabilitation, this could in turn lead to re-offending.

Hilary Metcalf, senior research fellow at the Institute, said “I’m sceptical that discrimination will be adequately countered. Many recruiters seem to see people with a criminal record as alien, completely different people to them. They do not think dispassionately about what a criminal record says about someone’s suitability for a particular job. Not surprisingly, many choose to play it safe. Substantial training is needed to get recruiters to reject only where the criminal record is relevant, but most recruiters don’t have the time, money or interest to do this. It would also require substantial funding from government.”

Almost one in three men has a criminal conviction by the age of 30. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is currently under review, and the authors of this report call for some changes immediately, particularly that some convictions should be immediately spent and leave no active record.

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