Using inclusive language

Using inclusive language

The language you use is important and can ensure prospective applicants feel welcomed. The terms we have listed below are those that employers ask us about the most. You can contact if there are other terms that you are unsure about. As a general rule of thumb, use terms that are factual and emphasise the individual before any offence. For example, ‘a person with a criminal record for fare evasion’ rather than ‘a fare evader’.


Unlock uses the term ‘people/applicants with criminal records’. Elsewhere, you may see other terms such as ‘ex-offender’ (usually used by government) or terms such as ‘prison-leavers’ or ‘people with convictions’.

We use ‘people with criminal records’ because we feel it is the least stigmatising and most accurate terminology to use. It emphasises personhood first and foremost, and is inclusive of those who have been to prison as well as those who haven’t. It is possible to have a criminal record without having a conviction.

There may be terms that you find more appropriate within your organisation, or more relevant terms for specific contexts. Whatever you choose, we would advise avoiding:

  • Terms that relate directly to prison (as this will only refer to a small proportion of the applicants you wish to address – remember that less than 10% of people with a criminal record receive custodial sentences)
  • Terms that describe someone predominantly by their offence (e.g. ‘offenders/ ex-offenders’)

‘Clear criminal record/ DBS check’

We strongly discourage the use of the term ‘clear/clean criminal records check’. Terms such as ‘clear’ are misleading and can suggest that a criminal record check is a pass/fail exercise (where the only acceptable criminal record check is one which does not reveal a criminal record). Instead, it should be clear (where this applies) that recruitment may depend on an assessment of any criminal record disclosed.

Other phrases such as ‘this post is subject to a satisfactory DBS check’ also send the wrong message. We often see this phrasing appear on vacancies that offer no guidance on criminal records or DBS checks for the role. So an applicant is left to decide themselves how ‘unsatisfactory’ or not their criminal record may be.

A criminal record will ‘not necessarily bar you from working with us’

This can send the wrong message, by suggesting that you’re starting from the presumption that a criminal record probably will bar someone from being recruited.

You could consider instead phrases like ‘we welcome/ encourage applicants with criminal records’ – if you do. A statement of intent like this can be reassuring for some applicants. However, a statement of intent may only be of value if it is offered alongside clear information about your criminal records process.

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