Voices: The radical US policy that could save Rishi Sunak – and the British economy

An economic recovery should have been the story of 2022. Yet despite his pledges, Rishi Sunak has been light on details on how he will dramatically overturn the UK’s challenges.

Britain Politics

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Britain Politics

Innovation could help. Creative ideas and legislation can lead to public policies that let people of all backgrounds fully participate in the economy. I’ve seen change happen in the US via ‘clean slate’ laws – and it could be the radical action Sunak needs to jump-start the economy here in the UK, particularly after Brexit.

Here’s how it could play out: I am calling on the prime minster to propose and pass clean slate provisions in the UK, so people who have been free of convictions and out of prison for a period would have their criminal records sealed. In most cases, people would not need to disclose a sealed record when applying for a job or housing. Passing a law like this would create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Brits overnight.

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I am a living example of how clean slate laws could help. Before I was global chief marketing officer of an advertising agency – and before I was a press secretary to leading politicians in the UK and US – I was incarcerated as a young offender and sentenced to a year in prison.

I turned my life around because people filled the gap to ensure I did not suffer perpetual punishment. Family members embraced me, and a prospective employer was willing to give me a second chance. My good fortune is, sadly, incredibly rare. But I know my experience can become the rule in the future, and not today’s exception. That is why we must create an environment where more people can tell stories like mine.

The scourge of mass incarceration reaches far beyond the prison walls and infects the economy. Even though people who have been released from prison are said to be “free”, they are not. They are very often allowed to slip through the cracks and back into prison because they are over-supervised, over-policed and ultimately denied economic opportunity.

People should not have to pay for the same crime over and over. We need a fairer system so that those who have already paid their dues can move on and contribute to society, thereby enhancing their own lives.

I believe, and know, it can work. About 70 million Americans – 20 per cent of the population – have some type of criminal record. Half of those people are unemployed one year after leaving prison, and those jobs which are secured are not particularly fruitful. To remove barriers to economic opportunity, 10 US states (NY State is about to make it 11) – both conservative and liberal – have passed clean slate laws to help ensure people with criminal convictions get second chances.

The laws remove roadblocks for those who remain crime-free, helping millions gain meaningful employment, all while reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. Big businesses such as JP Morgan, CVS and Verizon have supported these initiatives.

On this side of the pond, the 17 percent of the British population with conviction records face a dizzying array of barriers preventing them from proper housing, education, and solid employment. Citizens, as a result, suffer from limited economic opportunity, becoming trapped in poverty – just because they have a record.

This creates a deeper risk to public safety, and often sends people back to jail. We are not just causing further emotional and economic harm; we are wasting potential that could be working to discover cures to deadly illnesses, designing cleaner and greener cities, and revitalising main street brands.

There is a movement called #Fairchecks, a proposal seeking to overhaul the UK’s outdated criminal records disclosure system. This gives us a rare chance to build a fairer, safer, and more prosperous UK, and I urge lawmakers to seize the opportunity. It is the radical idea that you are looking for, prime minster; and yes, even conservatives approve of it.

Ashish Prashar is the Global CMO at R/GA and a justice reform activist. He sits on the board of Just Leadership, Leap Confronting Conflict, and the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice

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