Fair chances need fair checks

Black and white image of Richard Branson looking serious
Image by Jack Brockway
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 30 January 2020

I’ve long argued that anyone who has struggled in life deserves a second chance to live up to their true potential. The idea that no one should be judged by their worst moment lies at the heart of my passion for criminal justice reform and many other issues.

Black and white photo of Richard Branson sitting on a sofa on Necker Island, reading
Image by Owen Buggy

Business must get involved in these debates. I like to think that we all share a common purpose in building healthy societies, and I feel strongly that fairness, compassion and empathy are as much cornerstones of social cohesion as they are essential building blocks of long-term business success. 

One issue close to my heart is the rehabilitation of those who have past criminal records – in England and Wales, that is believed to be roughly one in six adults. Part of rehabilitation is the dignity of work. Across Virgin, we have hired hundreds of people with criminal convictions over the years, guided by a firm belief that employment is critical to reducing the vicious cycle of incarceration and re-offending.

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In practice, our businesses have been rewarded with access to an incredible talent pool of motivated and hard-working employees who value and cherish that somewhere along their personal journey someone was willing to recognise their potential and give them an opportunity to get back on their feet.

And yet, many unacceptable and unnecessary barriers remain, even for those with the best intentions.

One such barrier that unfairly impacts thousands, if not millions, is the fact that even minor convictions dating back decades remain visible in criminal record databases. Given that 75 per cent of British employers sadly still discriminate against people with criminal records, this has devastating consequences. Teenage shoplifting convictions or a past drug possession that shows up in a DBS check can ruin careers years down the road. It defies all logic and evidence: the norm is for people to stop committing crime. The vast majority of those with a past criminal record present no risk of offending whatsoever. Instead, lingering criminal records become a double punishment for all those who have done their time or paid their fine.

That’s why I’m supporting the new #FairChecks movement, which has been launched to advocate for reform of England and Wales’ outdated criminal records system. In short, the campaign asks the UK government to reduce the length of time a record is revealed and remove out-of-date information from DBS checks.

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Image by Virgin.com

More specifically, the #FairChecks campaign is looking for reform in the following areas:

1. Reducing the length of time a person’s conviction is revealed on basic checks.

2. Creating a more proportionate and flexible approach to what is revealed on standard and enhanced checks that protects the public without unduly harming people’s opportunity to get on in life.

3. A distinct approach to records acquired in childhood and a more nuanced approach to those acquired in early adulthood.

4. The introduction of review mechanisms so that no one has to face a lifetime being held back by their past without the prospect of review at some point.

5. A disclosure system that is fair and gives people a genuine chance of moving on and contributing fully to society.

Head over to the FairChecks website to learn more and to contact your MP to take action.