What is a criminal conviction?
If an individual has a criminal conviction it means that before the courts, they have pleaded guilty to a crime or have been found guilty of criminal acts. A criminal conviction will result in a punishment, whether that may be time served in prison, or a community service order, or a monetary fine, amongst several options that courts may impose.
Having a criminal conviction is often described as leaving a lasting legacy, as convictions create barriers in lots of different aspects of life. There are many initiatives nowadays such as ‘ban the box’ and #FairChecks, or more statutory initiatives like the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which work towards minimising the implications of a criminal conviction on the individual after their sentence or punishment has been served.
You may hear from time-to-time people using words like offender or ex-offender. Using the term ‘offender’ would indicate that the individual has committed a criminal act and is still serving their sentence. Whilst the term ex-offender would indicate someone who has a previously committed a criminal act but has now completed their punishment, in whatever terms it was set. In essence, the term ex-offender should mean that the individual is rehabilitated. Unfortunately, many people in society do not see the criminal conviction as something in the individuals’ past once they have completed their sentence.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is in its intent a far reaching piece of legislation which is designed to allow people with previous convictions to move on from them. What it means is that for many convictions, particularly for those which resulted in sentencing of less than 4 years in custody, that after the full period of the sentence including the probationary element, individuals’ do not have to disclose their conviction when applying for things like employment or insurance cover. The conviction then becomes a ‘spent’ conviction. However, the reality is that many application forms include questions that require individuals to disclose any spent or unspent convictions.
What are different types of convictions?
The words ‘criminal conviction’ is a heavily trafficked term and it often means people jump to the worst conclusion. This is heightened by the dramatized media we are all surrounded by daily. There are many different types of convictions, and as a Work Coach it can be useful to have the correct and most up to date information to distinguish between them so employers can then be assisted in understanding the range of convictions that may be disclosed in the application process.
Discharge – A discharge offence would be the least serious as it means that the individual would be allowed to leave court without any further action taken against them except a criminal record. The criminal record being a punishment in itself. They would usually be for minor criminal acts like petty theft.
Fine - An offence resulting in a fine is a monetary punishment. The individual would have to pay a sum for the offence they committed based on their personal circumstances measured against their income. This would often be used in offences like minor driving offences.
Suspended Sentence – A suspended sentence is one that does not have to be served in custody, it is carried out within the community. It can include different things like doing unpaid community work and perhaps having barring / restraining orders for certain individuals whom they must stay away from.
Community Sentence – A community sentence is one where the offender would be making amends to society and their community. It can come in a variety of different ways such as having a curfew, doing community service hours, having restricted movements and / or undergoing a rehabilitative programme. This may be used in circumstances where drug or alcohol misuse may have been at play when the offence was committed.
Custodial Sentence – A custodial sentence would be the most severe punishment. It would mean imprisonment. Custodial sentences are reserved for the most serious offences and are imposed when the offence committed is “so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence” (section 230(2) of the Sentencing Code). Custodial sentences can vary in length greatly.
How do convictions affect our customers?
Having a criminal conviction can have varying effects on an offender’s mental health. There has been a lot of research done on how a label given to an individual can become so embedded in their thought process that they start to conform to it. Someone with a criminal conviction is labelled as a ‘criminal’, ‘offender’ or ‘ex-offender’. This brings about often automatic judgements from many people. It can therefore be very difficult for someone to change people’s perception of them once they have completed their sentence.
Individuals with criminal convictions will often be very aware of the implications their conviction will have on all aspects of their lives, some of which are outlined below. These implications most often result in a loss of confidence and feelings of low self-worth.
There must also be consideration given to the trauma ex-offenders may have experienced from their journey within the criminal justice system and if applicable serving their custodial sentence. This is particularly relevant for those clients that will themselves have been in custody.
For clients who have experienced custody, it does undoubtedly take time for them to re-adjust to having their own independence. A Work Coach should know that an individual has gone from having little to no autonomy, to having an overwhelming amount of choices and responsibility upon release from prison.
As a Work Coach will be aware, having a previous criminal conviction can hinder a client’s search for employment. Many employers will have a box upon application seeking information on any previous convictions. A criminal conviction can often mean an individual is a less attractive option in an already competitive employment landscape.
Research has shown that a large proportion of individuals’ with criminal convictions come from a lower socio-economic background, sometimes this will mean that these individuals’ may not have been afforded the opportunity to gain skills for employment in the same way someone else might have. Building upon existing skills and finding employment that is suited to these client’s attributes is one of several available positive approaches.
The effects of a criminal conviction can be described as a domino effect. Without secure and stable employment, it can be very difficult for an individual to afford appropriate housing, but likewise without housing it can be difficult for a customer to secure work if they do not have a fixed abode.
Having a safe housing situation is vital in the stability of an ex-offender’s life. A criminal conviction itself can make it difficult to get approval for a mortgage or to get approval to rent from a landlord. Especially, if the individual is not in full time employment.
Taking into consideration all of the above, it can be challenging for an individual with a criminal conviction to maintain strong social connections with a variety of inter-connected people. This can be especially true for individuals moving away from a criminal lifestyle if they were previously linked to others living that lifestyle. Often if someone has served a custodial sentence, their personal relationships can be frayed as incarceration can cause huge strains on familial and romantic relationships.
Social connections and social skills can often be enhanced through the workplace, so there is a lot more to be said for employment other than just a fixed income. It can give individuals’ a renewed and reimagined sense of purpose through the belonging to a cause or an organisation. If their employment is the right fit for them personally and professionally it can also facilitate new connections with new and like-minded people.
Rehabilitation periods: On 16 September 2020, the Government announced its proposals to reform the rules on rehabilitation periods, and set out the details in a policy paper: A smarter approach to sentencing. The Government is proposing that custodial sentences of:
Up to one year will be spent after a one-year rehabilitation period (currently four years);
Between one and four years will be spent after a four-year rehabilitation period (currently up to seven years); and
More than four years will be spent after a seven-year rehabilitation period (currently conviction is never spent).
The changes will not apply to individuals who have committed serious sexual, violent or terrorist offences, and those working in sensitive roles, for example posts involving work with children or vulnerable adults. The rehabilitation periods will continue to be cut in half where the person was aged under 18 at the time of their conviction.
Unlock have a really great table outlining the more functional ways criminal convictions affect certain aspects of life at the different stages of a conviction journey - https://hub.unlock.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Overview-of-areas-of-life-that-can-be-affected-by-a-criminal-record.pdf