In a significant step towards reducing reoffending and providing opportunities for former offenders to reintegrate into society, the United Kingdom has witnessed a transformative change in its legal landscape.
A recent alteration to the law is set to make life easier for over 120,000 ex-offenders, empowering them to secure employment and steer clear of a life of crime.
Under these groundbreaking amendments, ex-offenders will no longer be required to disclose certain custodial sentences, effectively eliminating a substantial obstacle that previously hindered their efforts to rebuild their lives.
These reforms are expected to significantly reduce the duration for which individuals with criminal convictions must declare their past when seeking employment, applying for educational courses, securing insurance, or finding housing.
Until now, some former offenders were obligated to divulge their sentences indefinitely, even for crimes committed many years ago, severely limiting their chances of obtaining gainful employment and making a fresh start.
The revised legislation establishes that custodial sentences lasting four years or more for less serious offenses will become ‘spent’ after a rehabilitation period of seven years, provided no further criminal activity occurs during this time.
Who do these new laws cover?
However, it is important to note that these changes do not apply to the most serious offenders, particularly those who have committed sexual, violent, or terrorist offenses, as safeguards have been put in place to ensure public safety. Stricter disclosure requirements will continue to apply to roles involving vulnerable individuals, with standard and enhanced DBS checks being essential in such cases.
These transformative legal adjustments, effective as of October 28, 2023, are part of the broader Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act 2022. Their immediate impact is expected to reach thousands of individuals with previously unspent convictions, with many more set to benefit in the years to come. Nearly 125,000 people sentenced in 2022 alone are poised to reap the rewards of these sweeping changes.
The government has been fervently pursuing the goal of increasing the number of ex-offenders entering the workforce as a crucial strategy in the battle against reoffending, which costs taxpayers up to £18 billion annually. Research has consistently shown that former offenders who secure steady employment are nine percentage points less likely to commit additional crimes.
Recent progress in facilitating employment for those leaving prison has been remarkable. The percentage of ex-offenders finding jobs within six months has more than doubled, climbing from 14 percent to 30 percent since April 2021.
Additional reforms have been revealed
Also, the government has unveiled additional reforms aimed at giving first-time and low-risk offenders a better chance to turn their lives around. By establishing a presumption against prison sentences lasting less than 12 months, these individuals will be punished within the community, allowing them to make amends and access essential services like drug rehabilitation and mental healthcare.
Individuals like Naomi, who have personal experience with the challenges of a criminal record, have welcomed these legislative changes. Naomi, who has prior convictions but has since found stable employment with the charity Recycling Lives, views these reforms as a significant leap forward in enhancing rehabilitation opportunities for ex-offenders and fostering better relationships between them and potential employers.
Moreover, the charity Unlock, dedicated to supporting ex-offenders in overcoming the long-term obstacles posed by their convictions, has expressed its support for the new law. Dr. Jo Easton, Joint Interim CEO of Unlock, emphasised the substantial impact these changes will have on thousands of lives, offering individuals the opportunity to move forward more quickly.
Employment Advisory Boards have been opened
To complement these legislative reforms, the government has established Employment Advisory Boards at 92 prisons, linking business leaders with local correctional facilities to provide expertise on the skills, qualifications, and training needed to help prisoners re-enter the workforce.
Dedicated job experts have also been recruited in every resettlement prison in England and Wales, and the Prison Service has initiated “Unlocked” job fairs, connecting prison leavers with potential employers in various sectors, ranging from hospitality to construction. These efforts collectively signify a comprehensive commitment to reducing reoffending and creating new opportunities for those seeking to leave their criminal past behind.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.