Reforming law on criminal records offers offenders with 'second chance'

Research shows that getting a job was 'one of the key factors' in stepping away from crime
Reforming law on criminal records offers offenders with 'second chance'

Effective spent conviction regimes were 'particularly important' for people who came into conflict with the law as children or as young adults. Stock picture

Legislation allowing for criminal histories to be effectively cleared can be important in allowing offenders to “re-engage with society” and “move past their offences”, according to new research.

The study says there was a large bank of evidence to show that getting a job was “one of the key factors” in stepping away from crime.

It says that effective spent conviction regimes were “particularly important” for people who came into conflict with the law as children or as young adults.

The study, by Dr Katharina Swirak and Dr Louise Forde of University College Cork, is one of two reports commissioned by the Department of Justice and published today.

The second research examined legislative and policy approaches in New Zealand, Australia, England and Wales, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

The Department of Justice said the reports would assist in the development of the “most balanced” spent convictions policy in Ireland.

Last week, Justice Minister Helen McEntee announced a public consultation on updating the law, which closes on November 6.

“A spent conviction is a conviction that, when it meets defined criteria, does not legally have to be disclosed in certain circumstances, the most common of which is when a person seeks new employment,” the department said in a statement.

“The rationale for a spent conviction legislative regime is rooted in the principles of rehabilitative justice and the generally accepted acknowledgement that, after a certain period of a time, individuals deserve a ‘second chance’ and the opportunity to move on without having to disclose a past minor criminal conviction.” 

Currently, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 allows certain convictions to become “spent”, once seven years have passed since the conviction.

These include motoring offences and minor public order offences. Sexual offences are not eligible.

While a conviction may become spent, it remains on the person's criminal record. However, the person will not be penalised in law or incur any liability for failing to disclose a spent conviction.

Disclosure is still required for specified work — in the gardaí, the defence forces, or applying for a public service vehicle, private security, taxi, or firearm licence.

The research by Dr Forde and Dr Swirak states: “Spent convictions regimes can be important to ensure that individuals with criminal histories have the opportunity to re-engage with society, and to move past their offences to assume a constructive role in society.” 

Their report says the requirement to disclose criminal convictions can “act as a barrier” to individuals seeking access to labour markets and even professional training.

It states there is extensive research that “demonstrates conclusively” that employment was a key factor in stepping away from crime.

“Research has consistently shown, albeit not universally, that employment-related interventions are associated with the largest reductions in reoffending,” the report says.

It states the provision of more generous access to spent convictions for minor drug offences appeared to be in line with the ‘quiet revolution’ towards public health-led rather than criminal justice-led responses to drug-related crimes and harms.

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