Despite having enjoyed a successful 40 year career in the private sector – and having raised his children successfully to adulthood – Richard was surprised to discover that his record branded him as a criminal with two previous convictions – one for possessing “dangerous drugs” and the other for “theft from an employer”.
The records surfaced approximately forty years on. Richard’s son wanted to join a choir and as a Dad, Richard needed to pass the new record check.
In the 1960s, aged 16, Richard had been prosecuted for the possession of marijuana and was given a one year conditional discharge. He was never a habitual drug taker; the offence resulted from a one-off mistake when he was approached by a dealer the police wanted to trap. Richard got into trouble again, a few years later, while a student. He was convicted of taking an item of food from a warehouse where he had a job stacking shelves. He believed the item he took was going to waste. Again, he was given a one year conditional discharge and put the mistake behind him.
After graduating, Richard found private sector jobs throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 00s without anyone wanting to know if he had a criminal record. He was given positions of responsibility and had a productive career. Had anyone asked him, he would have said that he had no convictions. He had been discharged by the Courts and understood that his record was still clear. However, approaching sixty, he suddenly discovered that even after forty years of good behaviour, the Police were listing his youthful mistakes as criminal convictions on a non-basic check. Richard now feels he has been retrospectively criminalized and is being punished for events that should have been forgotten decades ago.
Richard says: “When you look at this record, it looks dreadful. But I was never really the drug taking thief that it suggests – I was a young person who made a couple of silly mistakes. But it’s harder than you would ever believe to correct the impression this record creates, even though no-one apart from me knows or should care about what happened over forty years ago.”
Because of this “new” old record, Richard feels unable to apply for third sector work he would like to do. He thinks he is being prevented from contributing in a way the justice system never intended: “I thought that Conditional Discharges were invented to help people get back on track – but since the invention of the CRB/DBS, people like me are shackled with old records they cannot get deleted. This creates a problem that never goes away.”
Richard believes that, realistically, he will never be chosen to do voluntary or third sector work for charities etc. He is inhibited about making applications requiring checks because he knows he will be required to explain away his mistakes to people who would largely prefer not to hear, or be asked to think deeply, about a senior applicant’s juvenile problems.
Richard believes that the Government needs to make decisive changes to the law so that the Check stop listing from youthful mistakes that resulted in conditional discharges decades ago.
Richard concludes, “We have lost faith in the capacity of people to learn from their mistakes and to change for the better. The present system is preventing people like me from participating.”