Ban the Box

Why do I think Ban the Box is a good idea?

Lets say in 2009, you make a huge, one off…life changing mistake. A mistake that lets you see the inside of a prison cell, one that causes many people a great deal of trauma, tears and costs them a fortune financially and emotionally. A mistake that was never previously considered, was not premeditated and could have easily happened to anyone who enjoys a few drinks out with they girls at a weekend.

Imagine this happened when you were a teenager and haunts you for the rest of you life on an application form while applying for a job, or at least, for the next 13 years, until 2022 when your conviction is finally spent.

Is it really relevant for me to disclose on a job application form, as a 26 year old woman, that I have a conviction from my teenage years, for a single, silly mistake.

In my current and ongoing search for employment I have always been honest about my past, my past has, of course, made me the woman I am today. Strong, ambitious, driven and passionate about securing a career. My past has ensured I have a strong work ethic and a need to succeed. My past, however, is why I sit in front of my laptop on this Sunday evening, typing this blog about my present struggles. Why is my past stopping my future progression, holding me back from reaching my full potential and killing my self confidence on a daily basis?

The reason or at least part of the reason is because of the box I tick on an application form to say I have an unspent criminal conviction. Which then follows with “please give details of the offence or custodial sentence” so here I am supposed to write “GBH – 4years”. This box for ‘details’ is hardly a place for me to be writing I was convicted as a teenager for a drunken offence and go into detail of the time passed, the progress I have made and the ins and outs of my court case and prison sentence. While on the subject of the ‘detail’ box, it may be worth me adding that on most forms it does say something along the lines of “please note, ticking this box will not automatically mean you will not be considered for the position”.

In my experience, that is exactly what happens, unless of course, the recruitment agency are late to disclose your conviction to an employer who has already offered you a job, then retracts it based on your late disclosure. So, that time I was lucky, I actually got an interview, got the job then the job got taken off me. For ticking the box, being honest and trying to move on with my life.

Another recruitment agency who I was working closely with in my quest to find a new job, had assumed that the two year gap on my C.V was a career break to have a baby. This lady was putting me forward for various roles and interviews and contacting me regularly via email with new job vacancies until one day she called me regarding an interview, where she mentioned my two year career break to have a baby, when I informed her that gap in my C.V was not to have a baby it was because I was in prison, I never heard from her again. Her voice changed in an instant and I knew that was the end of that particular agency helping me any further.

I applied for an admin role in an office via a third recruitment agency and a few days after my application was received I had a call from a lady who wanted to set up an interview for me, she briefly asked me questions about my current situation and a few things about my C.V. Needless to say, she asked what I had been doing in the two year gap and again I informed her of my past conviction and she actually said to me “well, I wont inform the company because although they can’t discriminate they probably still will”. I mean, what hope have I got, if recruitment agencies are telling me this? And again, needless to say, the job in question, I didn’t get an interview for and I didn’t ever hear from that woman again.

In my current situation I can not progress at all if recruitment agencies are unwilling to work with me and companies take job offers away from me after finding out about my past, which I don’t ever try and hide. For me, ticking this box either means I wont even get an interview at all or I will get an interview and once the conviction is disclosed I wont be successful, with no explanation as to why.

There are laws in place to stop discrimination, I have committed a crime and been punished for that. These companies and recruitment agencies who discriminate against me because of my conviction, are in essence breaking the law but of course, they have their employment lawyers in place and loopholes which allow them to carry on doing this. Its a shame and so ironic that the people who are unwilling to help me and give me a chance based on my past behaviour are showing unethical and immoral practice at fair employment, so in actual fact isn’t their current behaviour verging on being just as bad as mine was?

With some many people in prison or serving community sentences, how will they survive if they are treated this way, when they want to break the cycle of reoffending and ending up back in prison but due to being unemployed they revert back to crime, because for them it pays the bills. If people with convictions can not find a job, can not pay their own way and support their self or their family they have two options, sit on benefits or commit crime.

Many people in the criminal justice system, are not criminally minded, they have simply made a mistake, and even the ones who once were hardened criminals can change and want to live a life as a law abiding citizen. Prison changes people, life changes people and a job for a person with a criminal conviction or who is being released from prison can be the biggest and most important factor in them not reoffending.

For companies and recruitment agencies that are unwilling to assist in the employment of people with a conviction, they are missing out on hard working, loyal and ambitious employees. We face so many barriers and are held back from so many things that when we are finally given a chance, we don’t bite that hand that feeds us.

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