by Simon Caldwell
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — Criminals should not have to declare if they have spent time in prison when they first apply for a job, said an English cardinal.
Questions about serious convictions should be dropped from early check-box phases of any job application, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster told a Sept. 6 conference for prison chaplains.
He said a “ban on the box” would give ex-prisoners a chance to explain their behavior at a later stage of the job-selection process. This would be fairer to them and might also increase their chances of obtaining employment needed to help them to avoid relapsing into crime, he argued.
“We know that for people leaving prison, one of the most important aspects of rebuilding their life is finding stable employment,” Cardinal Nichols told the meeting at St. Mary’s University in London.
“But for at least two years after their release they must disclose their sentence on initial application forms for employment,” he said. “Every day people are instantly written off just because they have ticked that box.”
He said he knew of one man who, during his time in jail for a serious crimes, worked so hard that he achieved a post-graduate degree.
“Upon release he was determined to use his skills for the benefit of others,” Cardinal Nichols said in his speech. “Yet three years on and despite many applications, he has not had even a single interview. He has not even been able to tell his story.”
The cardinal added: “It is hard to envisage the crushing disappointment of someone who has worked hard to move away from crime and learn new skills, only to be rejected for job after job and never even given the opportunity to explain how he or she has changed since being convicted years before. That is not just devastating for the individual — it deprives employers of potentially excellent and able workers and denies society working taxpayers.”
Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said he accepted that convictions had to be disclosed at some point, but said it was wrong for ex-offenders to be “simply written off without a hearing for actions in the past which may no longer have a bearing on their future.”
He said that, in the next year, the Catholic Church in England and Wales would explore ways to “ban the box in our own employment practices, while taking all the necessary steps to ensure that safeguarding is never compromised.”
“I personally appeal to all employers to take this step and give people a fair opportunity that will benefit our society,” he said.
Catholic lawyer Neil Addison, a former senior state prosecutor, told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 6 telephone interview that he believed Cardinal Nichols “has a point.”
“He is obviously trying to get ex-offenders into work, and that is good thing,” said Addison. “I think that anyone who deals with criminals would understand that.”