The government has pledged to remove the stigma of convictions and help ex-offenders get jobs - but has been urged to do more to help black, asian and minority ethnic individuals who face 'double discrimination'.
Justice secretary David Gauke today announced reforms 'to break barriers faced by ex-offenders who genuinely want to turn their lives around through employment'.
Some sentences of more than four years will no longer have to be disclosed to employers after a specified period of time has passed. This will not apply to serious sexual, violent and terrorism offences. The period of time during which shorter and community sentences have to be revealed will be scaled back.
The Ministry of Justice will announce detailed proposals on how 'rehabilitation periods' will be amended after engaging with stakeholders later this year.
Unlock, a charity that supports people with convictions who face stigma because of their criminal record, welcomed the news. However, Christopher Stacey, co-director, questioned how effective the legislation can be in a society where information remains online and employers regularly ask about spent convictions even if they are not entitled to know about them.
The charity has also published a report on the impact of criminal records perceived by BAME people. More than three-quarters of the 221 people surveyed felt their ethnicity made the problems they face as a result of their criminal record harder. Eight in 10 cited employment as one of the problems they faced. Problems persisted for a long time - although the majority were last cautioned or convicted up to 10 years ago, 15% had problems between 10 and 20 years later; 7% had problems over 20 years later. African and Caribbean individuals were the most affected.
Labour MP David Lammy, who was commissioned by the government to do a landmark race review of the criminal justice system, said Unlock's report demonstrates that the criminal records system disproportionately discriminates against BAME people.
He added: 'Already facing discrimination when applying for employment, the barriers that BAME individuals face are solidified and compounded by our arcane criminal record process... I continue to urge the government to reflect hard on the impact of a criminal records regime that traps people in unemployment, contributes to high rates of recidivism and creates a double penalty for minorities. It’s time for urgent reform.'