Telling a partner, family member or friend about your criminal record

Aim of this page

This page aims to address some of the issues people face in forming new relationships or friendships and maintaining existing ones. It also highlights some of the things to think about when disclosing your criminal record.

It is part of our information on personal relationships.

Why is this important?

Relationships are a really important part of life. Partners, family and friends give us someone to laugh with when things are good and someone to turn to in times of need. But, maintaining relationships and meeting new people can be hard, and having a criminal record can make it seem even more difficult. That’s one of the reasons why people with a criminal record can become extremely isolated which may lead to a decline in their mental health, at higher risk of drug or alcohol dependency or a return to their previous offending behaviour.

It’s important therefore not to become socially isolated and that you make the effort to stay connected with your existing friends and find ways of making new ones.

Starting a new relationship or friendship

There are many reasons why having a criminal record can make meeting new people seem daunting. Your experiences of the criminal justice system may have made you feel insecure, you might have lost your self-confidence or you may feel unworthy of a new relationship/friendship.

You’re likely to be concerned about telling new partners/friends about your criminal record and how they will react once you have told them. However, building new relationships will be vital in helping you to move on with your life.

It’s important to remember that irrespective of your criminal record, meeting a new partner or making friends gets harder as you get older. Depending on the nature of your offence and/or the sentence or disposal you received may mean that you’ll have restrictions on where you can go and who you can meet with. However, some things to consider:

  • Have a go at volunteering – Volunteering allows you to meet people who care about the same things as you do whilst gaining new skills and experience. If you’re looking for paid work, volunteering may improve your employability.
  • Go to night school – Night school classes don’t have to be boring and speaking to people whilst taking part in a pottery or Spanish class will be a lot easier than having a conversation during an aerobics lesson. Not only will you meet new people but you’ll learn new skills as well.
  • Join a gym
  • Reach out to neighbours and work colleagues

Telling your partner, family or friends about your criminal record

Telling a new partner, your family or friend about your criminal record could potentially be one of the most important discussions you’re likely to have. You may be wishing that you’d had the conversation sooner or concerned that telling them will put an end to the relationship. Despite these worries, not telling them means that you’ll always be looking over your shoulder waiting for the day when your past comes to light.

Giving some thought and preparation about how you tell them will hopefully make you feel more confident in dealing with the questions your partner/friend might have.

Consider what you’re partner/friend might want to know. This could include:

  • What happened? Be clear and concise. “I got involved in a fight with my partners ex-boyfriend. He’d been goading me for a while but on this occasion, I was the instigator. I was arrested, charged and served a short time in prison”.
  • Who else was involved in the incident? This could include others convicted with you or victims of your crime.
  • Where and when did it happen?
  • How did it happen? Think about what you did. What happened when you went to court? What sentence or disposal did you receive?
  • Why did it happen? Only include the facts and, without making excuses, think about the reasons why you committed the offence.

Keep going over the story making sure you get it clear in your own mind.

Think about the circumstances which led up to the offence (breaking up with a partner, issues with addiction, bad judgement). Go onto explain what you’ve done since then. This could be a practical change such as moving to a different area, attending a treatment programme etc or just your thoughts about the offence and what you’ve learnt from having a criminal record.

Don’t assume the worst. Consider what could go wrong and how you would respond if they did but also think about the positives that could come out of your disclosure.

Practice telling your story from beginning to end. Remember, it’s difficult to take things back once you’ve said them. If you can, practice with somebody that already knows about your conviction; not only can they give you feedback but it might help to calm your nerves.

  • Discussions of this type are usually best done in person. A self-disclosure letter to an employer might be fine but is unlikely to work so well with a partner/family/friend.
  • Make sure that you’re meeting somewhere private where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Give your partner/family/friend time to digest and consider what you’ve told them; you could try telling them on a Friday evening when they’ve got the weekend to think it over.

Talking about a conviction isn’t easy and you’ll probably have needed time to work out how you feel about the new relationship/friendship before talking about it. You might therefore need to apologise for not telling them earlier. For example “I have something to tell you, and I should have told you earlier but I was afraid that you wouldn’t want to have anything more to do with me once you knew”.

If you feel bad, show your feelings. If you feel remorse, make that clear. Don’t say something just because you think it makes you look better. Being genuine is more important than telling people what you think they want to hear.

Think about the consequences of telling them. Although you shouldn’t assume the worst, it’s good to be prepared for a bad reaction – shouting, crying, accusations or silence. Listen carefully to everything your partner/family/friend says and stay calm. If you’ve been listening, you can try to address some or all of the issues they’ve raised.

Your partner/friend is bound to have a lot of questions for you. Answer as many as you can even if you do find it painful to talk about.

Maintaining existing friendships after you’ve received a criminal record

Some friendships are easy; when you meet up it feels like you’ve never been apart, and these friendships won’t change just because you’ve been convicted of a criminal offence.

Some will however be a bit harder but, being open and honest with your friends is an important way of creating a strong support team that will be integral in helping you move on from your conviction.

Some points to consider when disclosing your conviction to your friends are:

How close you are to your friend will probably determine how much you feel comfortable telling them. This could simply be sharing the name of the offence you were convicted of, to providing details of the circumstances that led up to the conviction and the specifics of how it has impacted on your life.

Sharing such personal information can be uncomfortable so it might help to jot down your thoughts and the main points that you hope to get across. Friends may have their own thoughts on what’s important, so let them ask questions.

While you would hope that a good friend would be non-judgemental and supportive, you may find that the reality is slightly different. We’re often drawn to people who are similar to us and we want them to keep within the bounds of the image we have of them. The fact that you’ve acted out of character may challenge the image they have of you which can be frightening and cause uncertainty.

Some friendships won’t be salvageable but many will be. Acknowledge your faults and mistakes, be patient with your friend and keep your expectations realistic.

What concerns might partners, family or friends have about specific offences or your attitude towards them?

Hearing that their partner/family/friend has a criminal record might come as a shock but some offences will cause more concern than others as will your attitude towards them.

Violent offences

A violent offence can be anything from a caution for common assault after a playground fight to a significant prison sentence for GBH. A new partner is likely to be cautious about getting involved with a person convicted of a violent offence, especially if the offence was against a previous partner. If you’ve got an understanding of the circumstances or triggers that led to your conviction then talk about this and explain what, if any steps you’ve taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again, for example attending anger management courses.

Under Claire’s law a partner can ask the police to check whether you have a violent past. The police could decide to disclose information about your conviction if they felt that your partner was at risk of domestic violence from you.

Sexual offences

If you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence then it’s likely that you will have little option but to disclose (either because the police insist upon it or because of information that exists online). The thought of having the police, probation or social services involved in their lives will probably be a concern to your partner/friend especially if they have children of their own or work with them. Further information around disclosing convictions for sexual offences can be found here.

Under Sarah’s law a partner/family/friend or member of the public can apply to the police to request a disclosure (of child sexual offences) about a person who has any form of contact with a child or children.

Drug offences

Although partners and friends may be happy to overlook an offence involving possession, if it was your own addiction issues that led to your offending, then this may ring more alarm bells. An addiction to drugs or alcohol can place an enormous strain on any relationship and if appropriate, you should provide your partner/friend with some reassurance that you’ve addressed your issues with addiction.

White-collar crimes

Partners and friends may consider that anybody convicted of a white-collar crime poses little risk to their own personal safety. However, there is usually an element of dishonesty in these types of offences and demonstrating that you are an open, honest and trustworthy individual will be important.

Offences committed as a youth

Most people appreciate that adolescence can be a difficult time and for various reasons, some young people fall in with the wrong crowd or make impulsive or bad decisions. Offences committed when you’re young are often quite minor (even if there are lots of them) and friends/partners will probably find these a lot easier to forgive.

You’re in denial

If you’re telling your partner/family/friend about your criminal record, then you need to take ownership of it. People do make mistakes and learning from these is the best way of ensuring that you don’t repeat them. Not accepting responsibility for your conviction or denying it, is unlikely to be the best way to start a new relationship/friendship.

Minimising your offence or criminal record

Compared to other’s you’ve met during your criminal record journey, your offence or criminal record may seem relatively minor. However, to anybody who’s never had any dealings with the police, any conviction is likely to be a big deal. Avoid downplaying your conviction or joking about it when you disclose.

Personal experiences

The personal story below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine:

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

More information

  1. For practical information – We have more information on relationships, children and dealing with social services
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the tag disclosure
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

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