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EQUAL welcomes Unlock’s timely report on the impact of criminal records for BAME people

It has been shown that BAME people are more lik­ely to have a criminal record because of their less favourable and harsher treatment at every stage in the criminal justice system. Having engaged first hand with BAME people with lived experience we recognise the barriers that they face not only within the criminal justice system, but also when they leave it. For many former offenders in the UK, a prison sentence extends beyond the confines of a prison.

Iqbal Wahhab OBE, the chair of EQUAL said that the UK is facing a huge challenge in claiming that it is a fair society when:

  • BAME people make up 26% of the prison population compared with 14% of the wider population;

  • BAME individuals are significantly more likely to receive custodial sentences than their white counterparts;

  • Ethnic disproportionality in the criminal and legal justice system has risen since the Lammy report (2017);

  • 49% of young people in youth custody are from BAME backgrounds and black young men are twice as likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population.

How government, employers and other bodies treat people with criminal a criminal record is a major issue for BAME communities and society as a whole. Individuals with a criminal record face a wide range of problems post conviction including penalties in the job market, volunteering, insurance and rebuilding relationships.

The EQUAL national independent advisory group takes action for race equality in the criminal justice system. We have prioritised improving outcomes for BAME and Muslim individuals across three strands of the justice system: the prison and probation service, the youth justice system and the policing of young people.

EQUAL welcomes Double discrimination? The impact of criminal records on people from black, Asian and minority ethnicity backgrounds, a timely report from Unlock charity. Based on a survey of 221 former offenders, Unlock found that respondents faced multiple difficulties as a result of their criminal record. 79% cited employment as one of the main problems they faced. More than three quarters felt their ethnic background had made the problems they faced as result of their criminal record harder. According to Unlock nearly three quarters of national companies still ask about criminal records at job application stage.

For many former offenders a conviction is never ‘spent’ (1) and the current Home Office supported Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) system continues to thwart rehabilitation and is not fit for purpose. Subject to specific exemptions, it is unlawful for employers to take spent convictions into account when considering someone’s suitability for employment or volunteering.

The report contains a number of powerful testimonies from BAME individuals that received cautions or served a prison sentence. One Asian male who was cautioned 5 years ago for possession of cannabis describes his problems with employment:

I am not confident of applying for jobs, I can’t get an enhanced DBS to check what is on it. I am usually in a minority group when attending interviews…so stick out. When details of my caution arise, I am further isolated.’

A middle aged black male that was convicted over 30 years ago as a 17 year-old under joint enterprise and sentenced to two years on probation stated:

‘…As far as I am concerned there is no rehabilitation and there is no such thing as a spent conviction. A black man with a conviction is just tougher…’

Unlock rightly calls on the government to fully meet Lammy recommendation 35 and conduct a study of the costs of employment among ex-offenders.

The DBS does not collect information on ethnicity when a criminal record check is sought, it is therefore difficult to quantify the actual number of BAME people with convictions that experience barriers to employment. The Lammy review called for greater transparency and data collection, specifically when it came to BAME service users. EQUAL also wants to see an evidence-based approach to recognising and tackling disproportionality within the criminal justice system. 

The ethnic penalty in employment is well documented and we welcome the evidence in Unlock’s report which shows the biggest challenge for BAME individuals post-conviction is securing employment. The government needs to do more to help BAME people overcome ethnic and offender bias in the labour market. EQUAL supports Unlock’s call for the government to conduct a fundamental review of the wider criminal records disclosure regime.


  1. Spent” means a caution or conviction that no longer has to be disclosed when applying for most jobs or for things like insurance. Unspent convictions are those that have are not yet spent or never will be.