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Boxed In

By Madii Hussain

We are often categorised by the colour of our skin (BAME, white), our bank balance statements (middle, working class), our ability to reproduce (fertile, infertile) or whether we have a criminal record or not. Our cultures and societies dictate the perfect ideologies- blonde hair, blue eyes. Nothing more, nothing less.

For those who have one, keeping a job is tough. For those who do not have one, finding a job is even tougher. For those who have a criminal record, the chances of getting past the application submission stage can be extremely difficult. Your sentence doesn’t just end once you’ve past the barbed wires and iron bars. Society dictates what doors are open to you after you are released from prison.

I’ve grown up in a society where people who have a criminal record are marginalised because of their past wrongdoings. The general consensus about these people is to “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. People with a criminal record are stigmatised as evil, inherently bad and unforgivable. However, we must remember that these people are not evil; we define their acts as evil. A decision has to be made to do evil things, so it can also be reversed, to not do evil things.

Life after prison is a challenge in itself for those who want to change their ways. For some, the letters and calls of rejection will surpass their handling capacity. Rejection is part of society’s punishment for you. Whether it be a simple job interview or something as complex as finding a house or travelling to certain countries.

- Christian Douglas, young offender.

Employment gives ex-offenders a reason to wake up in the morning and progress in their financial stability, social relations and overall ability to integrate back into society. However, it is not a guarantee of rehabilitation, due to societal stigmatisation. Offenders like Christian, who want to find a job, cannot just rely on their A*s to speak for their credibility. Admitting to having a criminal record, in a professional setting, will amplify the humiliation attached behind the rejections. Humiliation, embarrassment and guilt are persistent themes in the stories of people with convictions; who want to change.

It is natural for applicants with a criminal record to be reluctant to disclose their history because this will most likely backfire against them. However, not disclosing a criminal record to an employer, when asked, will also lead to violating the law. The majority will not get past the application form stage because a criminal record will hinder their credibility for the job. Therefore, “Ban the Box” is a campaign which is trying to get ex-offenders past the job application stage by giving them the opportunity to present themselves and not their criminal record during an interview. An employer signing up to “Ban the Box” also undertakes to give a potential employee the chance to explain their side of the case before reaching any conclusion.

“Ban the Box” is an initiative that

is trying to increase employment

opportunities for ex-offenders.

Rehabilitation is the central theme of this campaign by encouraging employers not to discriminate against ex-offenders. Specifically, “Ban the Box” allows employers to be more open-minded about applicants by considering them on their merit and qualifications rather than their previous convictions. They aim to achieve this by getting rid of the criminal declaration section on initial job application forms. Consequently, employers may ask about previous criminal convictions only if it is relevant to the role of the applicant.

You can argue that this initiative will not make a difference if an employer chooses not to hire an applicant after knowing about their conviction. In my opinion, even without a conviction, we are still not always treated fairly. Declaring our gender, sexuality and ethnicity already categorises us favourable or non-favourable for many job applications, despite legal protections. Having a criminal record just amplifies existing prejudices.

Employers are trying to protect their company’s reputation by not hiring someone with a criminal record. “Ban the Box” is trying to change this and give ex-offenders the opportunity to change their lives through meaningful and sustained employment. Whilst this is not a silver bullet solution to solving unemployment for ex-offenders it is a great start to having a proper discussion that considers character over conviction.

You can read more about the UK Ban the Box campaign here:


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