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Spent convictions law fails to fulfil rehabilitative aim – IPRT

06 Feb 2019 / courts Print

Spent convictions law 'fails in rehabilitative aim'

Current spent convictions law in Ireland is disappointingly limited and does not fulfil its rehabilitative aims, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

The campaigning group has called for an expanded rehabilitation law that will tackle obstacles to work, training, education and even insurance, for people with old convictions.

Narrow

Even those with minor convictions experience difficulty moving on with their lives because of narrow spent convictions legislation, and the current blanket waiting period of seven years. This waiting time lacks proportionality, the IPRT says.

The body has strongly welcomed as a new and fairer approach the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018, introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane, and expected to reach second-stage debate in the Dáil this month.

Minor

M.E Hanahoe partner Robert Purcell who is chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee says that young people with minor convictions often have trouble getting employment.

“It could be beneficial for everyone, where an effort to rehabilitate and reintegrate has been made, if they are given a clean slate.

“It is very often the case that previous convictions, for unrelated matters, are being used as a ground for prohibitively high insurance premiums.

Measures

“We would welcome the expansion of the spent convictions system. Any measures to encourage rehabilitation and reintegration should be encouraged and would benefit society as a whole,” he said.

Mr Purcell pointed out that both insurance and employment application forms crop up regularly as an issue for those with previous convictions.

The effects of a criminal record on access to housing, work, volunteering, education and insurance is also demonstrated in a survey conducted by IPRT, which will be published online next Tuesday at www.iprt.ie.  

A full 81% of respondents had trouble getting work after a conviction, while over half had trouble volunteering. Insurance presented difficulties for 39%, while access to education was problematic for 29%.

Convictions

The convictions in question ranged from a fine (25% of respondents) to prison sentences of more than 12 months (26% of respondents). Only 9% said they had benefitted from current spent convictions legislation – the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.

The IPRT believes that limitations in the scope of the 2016 act mean it does not fulfil its rehabilitative purpose, and is of no benefit to people who were convicted of more than one offence, even where these were minor and committed decades ago.

IPRT executive director Deirdre Malone said: “The bill launched by Senator Lynn Ruane represents an important step towards addressing the unfairness of the current situation in Ireland.

“The proposed bill seeks to widen the eligibility of the convictions that can become spent, and adjusts rehabilitation periods so that they are more proportionate to the sanction received.

“The bill also takes a different approach to offending by young adults aged 18 to 23. This is a first in Irish criminal law, and is in line with emerging international best practice.

Positive change

“Young adults have high rates of offending, but also a greater capacity for positive change than older adults, and it is crucial that society supports them to move on after their punishment has been served.

“This reflects policy trends across Europe, and is grounded in the evidence of what works to reduce reoffending among young adults.

“The existing spent convictions law is particularly unfair where the pattern of offending was linked to mental-health issues or addictions, or both, and the person has worked hard to address those addictions.

Society

“It is important that, when a person has demonstrated to society that they will no longer commit crimes, that society acknowledges this and allows them to move on,” she said.

IPRT has called for current legislation to be strengthened through:

  • Raising the limit on the type of custodial sentence that is eligible to become spent,
  • Removing the cap on the number of convictions that may become spent, and
  • Retaining a proportionate relationship between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period.
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