You’ve Never Done Your Time
There is a well-down saying, popular among the more right-wing members of society, that goes: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” This implies that it is possible to “do your time”, and that a criminal’s punishment ends as soon as he sets foot outside the prison gates.
This is absolutely not the case.
Unfortunately, the Criminal Justice System is currently set up to ensure that punishment continues long after that eagerly anticipated release day, and in some cases the punitive effect can last a lifetime. Let me expand on this.
Any criminal conviction will earn the offender a criminal record, and this will remain on record (unspent) for anywhere between one year (for a community order) to seven years (for a custodial sentence of up to four years). However, if you are unlucky enough to be sentenced to more than four years in jail, the conviction is never spent.
Once a conviction is spent, it does not have to be disclosed to an employer (even if they ask). However, if a conviction is unspent, by law it has to be disclosed to potential employers.
And therein lies the problem.
This issue was actually brought home to me very recently. I was sentenced to five years in prison for firearm possession in 2010, and was released at the halfway point in 2012. Previously I had a successful career in IT, but when I got out the country was deep in the grip of a recession. IT jobs were thin on the ground, and, assuming that I was at a major disadvantage, I didn’t even try to get back into the IT rat-race. Luckily I have a close friend who runs a gardening business, and he was kind enough to employ me. I have been working for him ever since.
Fast-forward two years. My wife and I now have a 9 month old daughter to support, and my gardener’s wages barely cover the nursery fees. The recession is lifting, and IT departments are hiring again.
I dug out my numerous IT certifications from the loft, dusted them off and had a crack at writing a CV. When I had finished, I sat back and looked at the experience, knowledge and qualifications I had accrued over ten years.
It actually looked pretty impressive.
Next I got online and scoured the jobsites for local IT roles, and sent out about fifteen applications.
I didn’t really expect much to come of my efforts, so I was very pleasantly surprised to receive a call from a recruitment company.
Initially, the conversation was up-beat, and the recruiter explained that there was a role available that he thought I would be perfect for. However, he just needed to clarify a few things. First up, was the question of the four year gap.
Then the wheels started to come off.
“So..you have ten years IT experience but you’ve been out of it for a while, so can you tell me a bit about why that was?” he asked, his voice still friendly and warm.
“Right..OK, this doesn’t sound great, but the simple truth is that I went to prison.” I replied.
“OK..” he said, a distinct coldness now evident in his voice.
“I went to prison for two and a half years for the illegal possession of a shotgun, there was no violence, violent intent, theft or dishonesty involved. I was truthful with my employers and they still kept me on for the nine months between my arrest and my sentencing….”
“Won’t they take you on again?” He interjected.
Ah. This wasn’t going well.
“Well, my position is no longer vacant there…”
“OK, well the position is actually with Surrey Police” He replied, flatly.
“Oh dear, well that’s not going to work then, is it, ha ha?!” I said in a jovial tone. I was hoping that I could salvage the situation (and be kept on his books) with humour.
He wasn’t having any of it.
“No, it won’t. OK. Well, sorry it didn’t work out, bye.”
And that was that.
The lesson there was simple. If I want to even get an interview, I can’t tell the recruiters about my record.
My sentence was over four years so my conviction will never be spent. The sheer arbitrariness of relating a longer sentence to the time it takes to become unspent (if ever) is what particularly annoys me. I hurt no-one, threatened no-one, stole nothing and the only victims were the family I left when I was sent to jail. But unless the law changes retrospectively, this moment of stupidity will be hanging over me for the rest of my life.
Conversely, many violent and prolifically dishonest offenders will have their record expunged after a few years. Now, I may be biased, but I am sure it would be of more interest to a potential employer to know if an employee has a violent or dishonest past than to know about my transgression.
In my favour, I am fortunate enough to have been employed since my release, and have a supporting network of family and friends. I am also well educated, and tend to come across quite well in an interview. Many ex-offender’s don’t have the advantages I have, and when they are ejected back into the world with little more than £46 pounds and a criminal record to their name, it should be of no surprise that many fall back into the trap of offending again.
Currently the UK’s prisons are at bursting point, and they are struggling to find the resources to rehabilitate inmates. So we have a situation where people are released with little or no effort having been made to address their offending behaviour, into a society which they will struggle to be accepted into.
Unfortunately until this ludicrous, unfair and short-sighted state of affairs is properly addressed, I can’t see how our prison population can do anything but increase.
If you have experience of the criminal justice system and would like to guest blog for us then please get in touch at www.prisonphone.co.uk
The above blog post was submitted by the author of,
‘Prison On An L Plate‘ is a book by Dan Angiolini, based on his experiences behind bars.