Ex-prisoners looking for careers in the Civil Service will not have to disclose their past convictions when they first submit their job applications, David Cameron has announced.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to ensure that ex-offenders were not rejected for jobs outright before they had even had a chance to show their worth.
Whitehall is adopting a US-style "ban the box" system - removing the box on application forms which candidates are required to tick if they have unspent convictions.
Although they will eventually have to declare their offences, Mr Cameron said that it would remove an important first hurdle to them getting a job and urged other employers to follow suit.
"Ex-offenders are often rejected for jobs outright because of their past. I want us to build a country where the shame of prior convictions doesn't necessarily hold people back from working and providing for their families," he said.
"Of course, I want businesses and organisations to know who they are interviewing. If a conviction is unspent they need to know about it and make the right decision for them, for that business."
"But here's my question: Should offenders have to declare it up-front, before the first sift of CVs - before they've been able to state their case? Or might this be done a bit later, at interview stage or before an actual offer of work is made?"
Setting out plans for wide-ranging reform of the prison system, the Prime Minister said it was the Government's mission to turn "remorse and regret into lives with new meaning, finding diamonds in the rough and helping them shine".
Mr Cameron said he was "hugely frustrated" by security failings that allowed prisoners to readily access social media or saw prisons apparently "awash with alcohol and drugs".
But he rejected "lazy" claims that prison was a "holiday camp", insisting they were "often miserable, painful environments: isolation, mental anguish, idleness, bullying, self-harm, violence, suicide.
"Is it a sensible strategy to allow these environments to become twisted into places that just compound the damage and make people worse, or should we be making sure prisons are demanding places of positivity and reform so that we can maximise the chances of people going straight when they come up?"
He said the present system was "infantilising" senior staff as he set out plans to create six new "reform" prisons where proven governors would have "total discretion" over how they spent their budgets - on the model of academy schools.
Whitehall at present sets national limits on the number of jigsaws, sheets of music and pairs of pants a prisoner could have in their cell, he said, saying the freedoms would eventually be extended across the prison system.
There would also be a new "financial incentive scheme" for high-performing staff, he said, and a boost given to schemes to attract good graduates to the profession.
They would be judged in new league tables, based on measures such as re-offending rates, post-sentence employment, the numbers released into permanent accommodation and levels of literacy and numeracy.
The reform prisons would pilot "co-commissioning" of mental health services between prison governors and NHS England to ensure services were better tailored to each institution. If successful, the system would be introduced nationwide from 2017, he said.
In other measures, police are to be given new powers to speed up the deportation of foreign offenders - who will be required by law to declare their nationality in court - while ministers will work with mobile network operators to block mobile signals in jails.