Saturday, June 05, 2010

Criminal Waste of Time

So because of the voluntary work I do with WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) I was asked yesterday to attend an appointment to be CRB checked. For those from overseas or not familiar with the term it stands for Criminal Records Bureau and it's basically where they check to see if you've ever been convicted of a crime that might make you a threat to vulnerable people you might be working with.

Firstly it is downright insultory* to put obstacles in the way of people trying to help these women. I teach them as a class - if I were to try and do something dreadful to one of them (physically attack? extort money? they don't have any money, that's why the teachers are all volunteers) the rest of the class would stop me immediately. They nearly did throw me out one time when we were doing a class on beliefs and I said I didn't believe in God!

Most of these women live in homeless shelters. The other residents of homeless shelters are definitely not CRB checked. These women witness fights, screaming, abuse, extreme drunkenness and drug-taking on a daily basis and the government really thinks the voluntary English teacher is the biggest risk? If you're living on £35 a week (intended to cover both food and accommodation because you're not legally allowed to work) the woman who teaches the English class is probably not your biggest worry.

But anyway I understand that it does no harm for me to be checked out so I go along. They charge £10. The ask me to wait. Another woman goes in to the office. It takes about 20 minutes. They suggest all six WAST teachers go in together. I ask if this will save time and they say "no, you'll just be together", so since I don't want to be there for another two hours I suggest we go in in twos. Two of us are duly shown to the CRB woman's office. She fills in my paperwork first. It's a single A3 sheet folded in half (so effectively four sides of A4). I've brought three forms of ID. She looks at them but doesn't photocopy them or copy down any numbers (like passport number/driving license number or any security codes on them).

On page 1 of the form she fills in my name, address, when I moved there, phone numbers and asks for my NI number which I don't know or have with me. A couple of her colleagues come in and she has a 5-7 minute conversation about whether WAST is the same as Women for Refugee Women (which is obviously isn't if you look at the initials...). The she asks me what my name was before I got married (the same) so next to the box that says "previous name, if applicable" she writes "smurthwaite" again and next to "date of name change" she writes "2010". I don't understand why she does this. The other sections on the form include one for "additional info, optional but may help speed up the process" - stuff like bank account numbers and stuff. She leaves this blank and doesn't mention it. There's also a box (not listed as optional) for "name and address of referee". She ignores this too and doesn't mention it. Someone else comes in and asks her if she's seen another colleague, then someone comes in and tells her they're just popping out for lunch and they'll be back in half an hour and to give them a ring if they want a sandwich only there wasn't any egg mayonnaise yesterday and the other vegetarian options are always a bit uninspiring, especially the roasted vegetables which seem to be nothing but courgettes and never even any peppers or anything... And finally she hands me the form and asks me to tick yes/no to whether I've had any previous unspent criminal convictions, sign it twice and check the things she's written. It doesn't take long since she's written less than 30 words on the form, though it has taken the full 20 minutes.

Now here's the thing - I've only lived at my house since Feb 2004, and before that there was a four year period when I did not have a registered address in the UK. Now of course actually I was working in Japan in perfectly legitimate circumstances but if I was checking up on someone I'd definitely want to know where they'd been for those years. And I did know an ex-pat guy in Japan who was accused of drugging and raping a woman at a party and then the charges were mysteriously suddenly dropped (the rumour was that she had been paid off, certainly she did not drop charges against two other men who were accused of the same crime over the same incident) and he quickly left the country never to return. There is no way the information I gave to the CRB is sufficient to uncover whether something like this was true about me.

In fact there's very very little they can find out about me from only my current address and phone number (and bear in mind I was not asked to prove how long I had lived there, only to state it, as it happened my ID included my address but they accepted birth certificates, etc too so I could have made that up, they haven't rung so far to verify my phone numbers).

Which leads me to conclude that this system is a massive waste of time. Or maybe it's brilliantly clever - they make the whole process so excruciatingly irritating and exasperating that anyone with even the tiniest criminal inclination will flip out and headbutt someone.

*Apparently that's not a word - I've been using it for years...

1 comment:

Iceman said...

You'd think the UK government would be more concerned about refugees being so poor they have to live in homeless shelters rather than about the backgrounds of their volunteer teachers. For anyone looking to use a job to steal or scam people, "volunteer English teacher of desperately poor refugees" would be about the worst possible choice... The only danger I can see is that refugees might be vulnerable to sexual trafficking.

Here in the US, the criminal background check process is widely abused. Once someone has a criminal record of any type, it is virtually impossible for them to get any kind of decent job, even if the crime is way in the past and has nothing to do with the job. I've seen clients who have one drug charge or one assault charge from a fight many years ago, and then have trouble getting even low-wage jobs.