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Unlock comment: Ministry of Justice’s Education and Employment Strategy

Commenting on the Ministry of Justice’s Employment and Education Strategy, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock welcomes today’s Education and Employment Strategy from the Ministry of Justice, which includes some key measures that we support, including looking at financial incentives to encourage employers, and the civil service piloting its own scheme to directly employ people with convictions. We know that finding meaningful employment is a significant barrier for people with criminal records, and that despite some examples of proactive and positive employers, the overwhelming majority of employers take negative approaches towards people who disclose past offences.

“Nevertheless, the strategy doesn’t go anywhere near far enough and the Ministry of Justice has made a significant mistake by focusing solely on prisons and those released from them. It does nothing to deal with over 90% of people convicted each year who don’t go to prison but still struggle with employment because of stigma and discrimination because of their criminal record.

“Efforts in the strategy to engage with and support employers – such as a new body, the New Futures Network, and a new employer website – are positive steps forward, but will have limited success if they are not backed up by long-term joined-up strategic investment to support and challenge employers to recruit both people leaving prison and those with a criminal record in the community. The Ministry of Justice itself also seems to have missed the opportunity to lead from the front in employing people with convictions and become a beacon of good practice for other Whitehall departments to follow.

“Fundamentally, a criminal record is the biggest barrier to employment that most people will face when leaving the criminal justice system. Regardless of their skills and experience, people with convictions are routinely held back because of it. To genuinely improve their employment chances, the Ministry of Justice must seriously question the criminal records regime and look to reform it so that it does not act as the lifelong anchor, holding back people who have turned their lives around.”