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Study recommends ban on declaring criminal convictions on job applications

A study conducted by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) has found that having to declare criminal convictions on job applications often deters candidates from applying, and is not the most effective way of predicting the risk of reoffending.

The SCCJR, a body formed to produce research which informs policy and advances understandings of justice, is run in collaboration by the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, and Strathclyde.

This month, the SCCJR released new findings on the effectiveness of criminal record checks in recruitment processes, and found that declarations often do little to predict re-offending risks.

Companies frequently ask candidates to inform them of any unspent criminal convictions, in the hope that they will not unknowingly employ a person who has a strong reoffending risk factor which may be relevant to the work of the company or public safety.

However, criminal record declarations show ‘little to no insight into how likely a candidate is to reoffend’, according to Liz Cameron, director and chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

Furthermore, the Associate Director of SCCJR and criminology expert, Dr. Beth Weaver, has said that “on average, the time between someone committing a crime and being at no more risk of re-offending than someone who had not committed a crime is between seven and ten years.” However, the SCCJR makes clear that this varies based on the age and gender of the offender and the type of crime.

How many people have criminal convictions in Scotland?

According to figures from the Scottish government, approximately a third of British men and around a tenth of women have at least one criminal conviction. The effects of declaring criminal convictions on job applications is therefore widespread and pertinent for a large number of Scots.

Instead, declarations may simply limit the talent pool from which employers choose new employees, to the detriment of their companies. The research also suggests that those candidates who have never been convicted of a crime could, in fact, pose a higher risk than those who had.

According to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, employers cannot ask for details of spent convictions unless it is of importance to the organisation’s work (for example, in particular legal organisations). This is intended to stop rehabilitated offenders from being ostracised from the workplace.

Unlock - a national charity working with people with convictions - has launched a “Ban the Box” campaign, encouraging employers to avoid a tick box on applications for offenders to make their convictions known, and instead encouraging an application process in which employers inquire about convictions at a later stage. The charity believes that this will increase the opportunity for people with convictions to compete for jobs. The campaign mirrors similar drives in the United States, including “All of Us or None” and the “National Employment Law Project”.

According to Unlock, several companies have already ‘banned the box’, including Boots and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, a leading international commercial law firm.

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