Unlock – the national charity for people with convictions

Annika Howard
Unlock helpline worker supporting people with criminal convictions

People with criminal convictions can often face stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record long after they’ve served their sentence. We talked to Debbie Sadler, Advice Manager at our member Unlock about the help and support the charity offers through their helpline and website.

What a difference 10 years makes!

“Last year saw the busiest year for the Unlock helpline since it was set up in its current format back in 2008. That year we were contacted by 2,176 people, which was a huge amount of people based on our very limited resources. Roll forward 10 years and in 2017-18 we received over 8,000 enquiries from people with a criminal record or their family or friends.  Although a huge achievement for a small team, this increase is tinged with some sadness. It reflects the rising number of people facing problems as a result of cautions and convictions and the lack of information and advice people are given as they try to move forward with their lives.

What do we do and why are we different?

Whether somebody received their conviction yesterday or 30 years ago, there are likely to be times when they’ll need help in dealing with the consequences of it. By providing people with information, advice, and support we hope to empower them to deal with and overcome the stigma and obstacles that can come with a criminal record. To meet this need we offer both direct and online services.
People with convictions are at the heart of everything we do (as staff, trustees and volunteers) and it’s important to us that anybody working on our helpline has a criminal record. This peer-delivery is quite unique and quickly helps to break down any barriers with callers.

What support do we offer?

Our helpline doesn’t just exist for moments of crisis or when issues become totally overwhelming, although we certainly do speak to people during those times. It’s important therefore that we can offer a range of different ways for people to find answers to their problems. Some need the support of an individual at the end of a phone but many want the anonymity that a website can offer.

Direct support

Our helpline is a totally independent service manned by people with a criminal record. The service is confidential, reliable, honest and most importantly, free. Where we believe that individuals need additional support due to unfair treatment, we may be able to intervene on their behalf and take their issue on as part of our casework.

Online support

Like many small charities, we have limited resources, and our online support allows us to provide an effective way to reach hundreds of thousands of people each year. With over 11 million people in the country with a criminal record, online resources are critical to our work.

Our theInformationHub is considered to be the country’s most comprehensive source of practical self-help information and covers a wide range of issues which can be affected as a result of having a criminal record. In addition to this, individuals can join our online forum, a self-supporting community specifically for people with convictions. Our online magazine, theRecord allows readers to share their news, views and personal stories about life with a conviction.

Having a conviction become spent is a significant step in anyone’s life with a criminal record, but it can be confusing to work out when that it is. Our online tool, theCalculator helps to work out when convictions become spent and, may no longer have to be disclosed.

Getting in touch

Back in the early days of the helpline, many people would choose to write to us seeking information in relation to their problems. Today, the vast majority of people will telephone or email but our new digital channels such as WhatsApp and Skype are gaining in popularity.”

To learn more about Unlock, their work and the information, advice, and support they offer, visit their website www.unlock.org.uk

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