Access to education and training is essential for those with criminal convictions who want to move on with their lives. However, gaining an academic place on any course when you have unspent criminal convictions – especially ones of a sexual nature – makes it virtually impossible. I found this out the hard way when I applied to do a course and was twice refused a place. I did eventually manage to overturn their decision and here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.

My criminal record destroyed my professional life and reputation. I had to resign from all my jobs, move away from the area and effectively start again. Warehouse and retail work paid the bills but I needed to plan for the future and to focus on a new career direction. But doing what? A Probation Officer had recommended that I consider a career in antiquing as, he claimed, ‘a lot of sex offenders I know open up antique shops’ – I couldn’t think of anything worse.

So, last September, I applied for a place on a Human Resource and Management course at a local university. It had a good syllabus and offered some interesting modules. I met all the academic requirements too. It looked perfect. I filled in the form, ticked the box to say I had unspent criminal convictions and made a full disclosure as requested. It did not take long for me to receive a forty five word email refusing me entry. I appealed but I was refused entry again. At this point, it would have been easy to walk away. Nobody would blame me. However, I decided it was worth one last effort. So, here’s what I did.

Research

The reasons given for declining me a place seemed inconsistent and confusing. All academic institutions must have clear policies on admissions which must be easily accessible. It was easy to get hold of the relevant documents and I soon discovered that the two refusals I’d received were based on the wrong criteria. The University should have carried out a detailed risk assessment and only refuse me entry if I posed ‘an unacceptable risk’.

I also used Unlock’s information hub and advice from others on their forum. It’s always good to know that you’re not alone and other people have been through similar experiences.

Write

The next step was to put together an appeal. I have a background in law, so being able to put together a document was not a problem. For anybody who struggles with this here are a few key pointers:-

  1. Write a factual, evidence based document that shows you are not a risk of future offending/recidivism.
  2. Adopt a professional, objective tone. Don’t write in a whining, ‘it’s not fair, I’ve been treated so harshly’ tone – they don’t care!
  3. Provide evidence that you have taken responsibility for your choices and have sought to address your offending behaviour. What have you done to ensure it never happens again? Give context and where your offending behaviour sits on the sliding scale as defined by sentencing guidelines used by both magistrates and judges. Was it out of character? Were there other victims? Has there been similar offending in the past? Are you genuinely remorseful? Use reports and insight from external sources to corroborate this

Wait

From making my original application to actually receiving an offer of a place took six months. Be patient and don’t be surprised if it all takes much longer than you had hoped.

A month ago, all my hard work paid off when that letter came through the letter box overturning the original decision to keep me out and offering me a place on the course. I even did a little victory jig.

We all deserve a second chance, whatever we have done, but be prepared to fight for it – it certainly won’t be handed to you on a plate.

By Luke (name changed to protect identity)

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on applying to university.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to applying to university from people with convictions on our online forum.