Excluding People with Convictions Just Doesn’t Pay for Employers.
Earlier this week I spoke at an event organised by Business in the Community (BITC) as part of Responsible Business Week. The event, which was attended by CEOs, HR and other representatives of the commercial, public and voluntary sectors was aimed at sparking a debate about how to change employment practices and encourage more businesses to employ people with criminal records.
I spoke about my own experiences and how my two offences as a 13-year old are still impacting upon my career choices. Throughout my career I have had to “tick the box” on application forms which acknowledges I have a criminal conviction, even though it was 46 years ago and is no longer on CRB/DBS records. The very process of doing so leads many employers then and now to immediately see the offence and not the individual and often the application goes no further. This is especially so on many online applications, where the very act of “ticking the box” electronically bars the applicant from completing the application form.
So what is the case for employing people with criminal convictions? I would argue it is in everyone’s interests to do so: the prospective employee, the employer and wider society.
Why should criminal convictions become a life sentence? Since I started Wipetheslateclean I have been staggered by the number of people who have contacted me because their lives have been blighted by criminal convictions, many of them committed long ago. Each case is a tragedy in itself of broken aspirations, shame, embarrassment and despair. Is it any surprise that reoffending rates following custody are over 70% when, faced with choices of a lifetime of rejection or the temptations of further offending many take the latter path. People with criminal convictions account for over 20% of the working age population – they are not some minority group, they are people like you and me who have made mistakes.
For employers, in excluding this group of people from employment they are immediately ignoring 20% of the population from their potential field of applicants. People with criminal records are like you and me with skills, qualifications, and a desire to put their abilties to good use. Many have been rebuffed by successive rejections, but once given the chance they will make dedicated and loyal employees. I would also argue that by the very nature of being an ex-offender the risk they pose is well known and documented. It is the other 80% of the population, many of who have similarly offended but have not been caught, who potentially pose an even greater risk.
As regards wider society, are we content to condone people with convictions to a life of rejection , living on benefits and potentially continuing to offend with the financial and social impact that has, or should we not truly support the notion of rehabilitation?
This is why we need to both wipe the slate clean for minor offences, and, when it comes to employment and other life opportunities, view people with criminal convictions and who have stopped offending as individuals who have made mistakes and want to move on in their lives. BITC are leading a campaign to “Ban the Box” and rightly so. The idea is that in getting rid of the disclosure box on application forms prospective employers see the individual and their CV first, interview them and then ask for disclosure of convictions where relevant. At that point employers then complete an assessment as appropriate. The hugely reassuring aspect of the BITC event this week is the number of employers who are beginning to see the benefits to their organisations in following this approach. There are though still huge numbers who have yet to take this path. It’s up to all of us and to all our benefit to make this happen.