Anyone who has ever been in trouble with the law will know that it is not a pleasant experience. Even if you have only been questioned or cautioned for something trivial like public inebriation, being involved with the police will probably leave you feeling a bit down. So, imagine if you were actually convicted of a crime and sentenced to spend a period of time in prison. This is many people’s worst nightmare. We have all seen the news reports and documentaries about life behind bars, not to mention the Hollywood dramatizations. What we see here paints a horrifying picture of what goes on in prison. Then, when you are released after serving your sentence, life generally does not go back to “normal”. You would likely have to report to a parole officer every week, whose job it is to ensure that you are living as a law abiding citizen. You might be required to take regular drug tests. And on top of these things, you now have the stigma of being a criminal. This can be the hardest part about a criminal conviction. Many people who are released from prison try to move on to lead normal lives but find that, in some areas, there is discrimination against them because of their past.
When you are convicted of a crime, the details of your conviction go onto a file that is called your criminal record. This record will list any convictions that you have had in a court of law. Luckily, there are certain things that will not go onto a criminal record. For example, a crime that you have been investigated for but not been charged with will not show up. Any questioning or interviewing by police that does not result in a charge will also not be there. And if you have been charged and tried in a court but found innocent that will not be on your criminal record. This is to protect people who have not been found guilty from being discriminated against. However, if you have been convicted of a crime, then you will have a criminal record. This will list the crime that you were convicted of and any sentence that was handed down for it.
When you have a criminal history, it can definitely affect your life. This is not to say that you have to walk around with your criminal record stuck to your shirt! It just means that there will be some situations in which it will come up, and some doors that might be closed to you. The most obvious of these is employment. People who have spent time in jail notoriously find it difficult to obtain employment after they are released. This is partially due to the de-socialization of people in jail, and partially due to the existence of a criminal record. There are many basic and menial jobs that an ex-criminal will be able to get, but there are other jobs that they will not have a chance at. For example, if you were a school teacher before being convicted of a crime, the likelihood that you will be able to get that sort of job again is very low. Any job that involves working with children is strictly regulated, and normally a criminal history is a deal breaker. If you were the CEO of a large company before your time in prison, you will probably not get into the same sort of position again. Many large companies consider a criminal history too much of a risk for someone who will have such a big responsibility within their organization.
When you are applying for a job, often there will be a section asking you if you have a criminal history. This is where many ex-criminals get caught up. It is tempting to tick “no”, but this is never a good idea – you will almost certainly get found out down the track anyway. Other positions, such as the ones mentioned above, will do a mandatory criminal background check for all new employees. If you have a criminal record, then it is probable that they will skip over your application to the next candidate. If you do have a criminal record and you are having trouble finding work, there are certain industries that are generally less worried about criminal records. These include the trades and other labor jobs, and industries such as mining. You will probably have to get your hands dirty, but you will likely agree that it is worth it to have stable employment! These sort of jobs often do not ask you about your criminal history, and will not carry out a criminal background check, so you will be able to get through on your own merits.