In this Clinks Guest Blog, Chris Procter from Nacro shares his experiences of supporting jobseekers with criminal records to make reassuring disclosures.
Jenny* is a probation officer. She contacted our public helpline as she had been trying to get her client into employment for several months but her client always stumbled when it came to telling the employer about their criminal convictions. “What am I doing wrong?”, “what do I do next?” are just a few of the many questions that she had.
I told her “it may be useful to help your client prepare a written disclosure statement before they start applying for jobs”. Jenny didn’t understand at first. What if her client preferred to make a verbal disclosure? I stressed to Jenny that even if her client wished to disclose verbally then it was important that her client prepared exactly what they were going to say as this would give them the opportunity to gather their thoughts and to have someone else objectively review what they intended to say.
“Quite simply” I said, “preparing a disclosure statement will increase your clients’ chances of securing a job”. She then asked me for a template. I explained that we do not distribute templates at Nacro as our position is that each disclosure should be in the individual’s own words. We also do not write statements on behalf of those we help. If your client has difficulties with reading or writing, you might find it useful to ask these questions of them and write down their answers verbatim. With this information, you can help them to construct their disclosure statement.
So what information should your client disclose? My advice to Jenny and others like her is that if the following points apply then your client should emphasise them in their disclosure:
The offence(s) was/were committed a long time ago. In some cases it may be that the conviction is recent but the offence is not. If so, this should be clarified.
The offence was a one-off and was out of character. If your client has a number of offences that occurred over a period of time, try to group them together (e.g. “between 2001 and 2005 I was convicted on a number of occasions for offences relating to…”).
The offence is not relevant to the job for which your client is applying. Offence codes are often very broad and can make it difficult for employers to judge whether the offence is relevant. For example, serious violent and sexual offences are generally considered relevant to roles which involve unsupervised work with children or work with vulnerable adults. There are also a wide variety of offences that may have little relevance, such as public order offences.
The offence sounds more serious than it was. One way of explaining to employers that an offence is not as serious as it might sound is by drawing attention to the penalty or sentence received. Offence codes cover a very wide range of offences that vary in terms of seriousness. A sexual offence, for instance, covers everything from young men sleeping with their underage girlfriends to indecent assault and rape. Violence covers everything from slaps and smacks, often recorded as battery or common assault, to grievous bodily harm and murder. Drug offences cover everything from possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use to possession of class A drugs with intent to supply. Burglary covers everything from taking goods from shop storerooms to entering the homes of elderly people, leaving them in fear. Arson ranges from a person setting fire to litter bins to a person destroying property and endangering lives.
There were particular circumstances, which have now changed, or reasons behind the offence(s). For example, if your client had an addiction issue at the time of the offending which they have since addressed. Reassure the employer that your client has addressed, changed or learnt from the reasons or causes that led to their offending.
Your client took responsibility for the offence(s) at the time. For example they pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity or cooperated with the investigation.
Your client can demonstrate a change in attitude and/or behaviour. It might be the case that a person who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment was released early for good behaviour, or an order was revoked early for the same reason. If this is the case, it is usually a good idea to highlight this to the employer.
As with any application or CV, a disclosure statement must be tailored to the specific job for which your client is applying, as different employers may have different safeguarding concerns. A disclosure statement is personal to your client and their circumstances, so there is no perfect disclosure statement. Your client might find it useful, however, to try and follow this simple structure:
- Paragraph 1 - Start with something positive
- Paragraph 2 - Explain the offence(s) in their own words
- Paragraph 3 - Reassure the employer they are not a risk
You may ask the question: how do you know that a written disclosure statement works? Simple; because we work with employers too! Through our training and legal advocacy service we aim to challenge negative attitudes among employers and address their concerns around the perceived risk of hiring someone with a criminal record, ensuring that their recruitment process is both safe and fair.
A written disclosure statement is not only an individual's opportunity to tell an employer about the circumstances that surround a conviction but can also be used by an employer to inform their own risk assessment when considering whether the applicant is suitable for the role. However, we do stress that whilst an applicant’s criminal record should form part of the risk assessment it should not be the only thing that is taken into consideration when determining the person’s suitability for the role.
Do you support people with criminal records into training and employment? If you would like to feel more confident about supporting your clients with disclosure and get practical tools for challenging negative attitudes, take a look at our upcoming disclosure workshops.
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.