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Should criminal records be sealed from employers?

In the future, employers may no longer know if an individual has a criminal record. This follows a recommendation from an independent review of how the criminal justice system treats black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the UK.

The review, led by David Lammy MP, concludes that the UK should follow the U.S. system. In America, criminal records remain sealed. Those with a criminal record can have their case heard by an independent body or judge. This allows them the chance to prove they have reformed.

Taking into consideration evidence of rehabilitation and time since the offence, a judgment would then decide if the criminal record should become ‘sealed’. If the decision goes in the applicant’s favour, while they’d still have a criminal record, they wouldn’t need to reveal it. And furthermore, employers would not be able to access it.

‘Criminal records system traps offenders’

Mr Lammy believes that the current criminal records systems traps offenders in their past. He argues that while the system must protect the public, the UK needs a more flexible approach. The MP added that a job can become the basis of reforming offenders to have a law-abiding life. His review recommends that the system should look positively on those who committed their crimes either while as children or young adults, while also demonstrating that they have changed since their conviction.

The review received backing from charities supporting ex-offenders. Many argue that the current system, requiring disclosure of criminal records, anchors people to their past. They believe it ‘locks them out of the labour market’.

The Lammy review discovered that in the last five years, around 127,000 children were added to the national police computer database. Around 22,000 came from the BAME community. These were for a wide range of offences including relatively minor offences.

What does it mean for employers?

For employers, a reform could mean they will no longer know if their new employee has a criminal history. Business in the Community (BITC), an outreach charity promoting responsible business, encourages employers to remove questions about criminal convictions from their job application process in order to ‘develop fair and open recruitment policies which value skills and abilities over past mistakes’. The organisation has found that over half of employers would not hire an ex-offender. That’s despite research showing that being in employment can reduce re-offending by up to 50%. BITC goes on to warn employers that they could be indirectly discriminating against individuals, if they do not fairly assess candidates with convictions.

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