Moving on: The seven criminal record stages – leaving prison

This month we’ve written a further article for InsideTime ‘Through the Gate’ section which provides information on one of the seven criminal record stages – leaving prison.

A copy of the article can be found below.

Many people who contact our helpline are looking for answers to specific questions. However, some say “I’ve just been cautioned/convicted at court -what do I need to know?” To help those people, we’ve identified the ‘seven stages of a criminal record’ and developed information on how to deal with the consequences of having a criminal record at each stage. You can find out more information here.

  • Stage 1 – You’ve just received a caution;
  • Stage 2 – You’ve just received a conviction;
  • Stage 3 – You’re leaving prison;
  • Stage 4 – You’re on probation
  • Stage 5 – You have an unspent conviction;
  • Stage 6 – Your conviction is spent
  • Stage 7 – Your caution/conviction is filtered.

In this article, we’re concentrating on stage 3 – leaving prison. We’ll look at some of the other stages in future articles.

Being released from prison is a significant step in going back to a ‘normal life’. However, many people leaving prison are totally unprepared for dealing with the practical impact of living with a criminal record in the community. This can often leave them feeling extremely stressed and anxious and in the worst case scenario could see them losing their job or even getting into further trouble with the police. We’ve set out below some of the things we think you need to know.

Employment and criminal record checks

When you leave prison, your conviction will be unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act for at least 2 years (the time will depend on the length of your sentence). This means it will be disclosed on all levels of criminal record check, and when applying for jobs you’ll need to disclose it to an employer if asked. If you have previous convictions, you should check whether these are spent.

Recruitment practices vary – many jobs will ask about criminal records on application, but there are a growing number of employers who have ‘banned the box’. They delay asking questions about criminal records until interview or after offer, which gives you a better chance to be assessed on your skills and abilities first.

When it comes to disclosing your conviction/s, be prepared. Some people find that a disclosure statement can help them get their thoughts in some kind of order. The statement can be shared with the employer or used as a prompt when disclosing face-to-face. It can also be used as evidence of what’s been disclosed.

While you’re on licence, you may need to get permission from your probation officer before undertaking any paid or voluntary work. If your probation officer doesn’t feel that the role you’ve applied for is suitable for you, they can refuse you permission. If you’re subject to MAPPA (due to a violent or sexual offence), your probation officer may feel that it’s necessary to disclose information about your conviction to a potential employer. If this is the case, make sure you are informed of the employer’s policy on criminal records and share this with your probation officer. If the employer has a policy of not asking but probation insist that you do, you should ask for clear reasons, preferably in writing.

If you’ve been working for an outside employer whilst in prison, the prison should inform your employer of your release date. If you’re going to continue working for the same employer, make sure you give them your personal bank account details upon release. If you don’t, you may find that your wages will continue being paid into the central prison account.

Education

For anybody considering applying for a course at university through UCAS, you will no longer be required to disclose unspent convictions for the majority of courses (other than those leading to professions exempt from the ROA, for example teacher, nurse etc). However, individual universities have their own admissions policies and you may find that they’ll ask about unspent convictions, or about any licence conditions or restrictions that could affect your ability to complete the course.

Insurance

All the time your conviction is unspent you will need to disclose it to an insurer if asked. If they find out about a conviction that you haven’t told them about they’ll usually cancel your policy. If you make a claim, insurers may carry out a basic DBS check to establish whether your convictions were spent at the time you took out your policy. Your claim will probably be refused if you didn’t disclose an unspent conviction.

Travel

Licences generally include a standard condition which prevents you from travelling outside of the UK without the prior permission of your probation officer. Permission is usually only given in exceptional circumstances. If you do wish to travel abroad whilst on licence, we’d suggest speaking to your probation officer who should be able to give you an indication as to whether approval would be given and how to make a formal application.

Other

If you’re likely to be homeless on release from prison then you should make the prison aware of this at the earliest opportunity. The national shortage of housing stock means that it can be difficult to secure housing upon release, especially if you don’t have a connection with a local area. In many cases, you may need the permission of your probation officer to reside at a certain address. Whether you’re looking to rent from a local authority, housing association or privately, you will often be asked to disclose unspent convictions.

For many people prison offers stability and structure and coping on your own upon release can be stressful. However, there are many organisations that can offer information, advice and support to people leaving prison and we’d always recommend that you ask for help if you need it.

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Debbie Sadler