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MEDIA ADVISORY: Fair and effective Spent Convictions legislation is crucial to allow Individuals a “second chance” to get on with their lives

11th May 2011

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

Welcoming the Government’s intention to finally introduce Spent Convictions legislation, campaigners and those affected by the current gap in Irish law have emphasised that putting a limit of 6-months as the maximum sentence to which the proposed legislation will apply would be a major missed opportunity. Furthermore, excluding wide categories of offence and placing blanket bans on areas of employment will further limit the reach of the proposed Bill, and fail to support large numbers of people who have reformed their lives after mistakes made in their youth. These were the clear messages at Breaking the Record – Spent Convictions & Discrimination, a public forum hosted by the Irish Penal Reform Trust on Tues 10th May, 2011.

The Forum heard that currently having a criminal record in Ireland constitutes a lifelong punishment, no matter how minor the crime and no matter how long ago the offence was committed. Irish and international research demonstrates that barriers to accessing employment and basic services are key factors in preventing convicted persons break the cycle of re-offending. For this reason, Spent Convictions legislation offers the essential incentives to individuals that where they have proven they have reformed, they can look forward to getting back into productive society.

“In seeking to protect society from the risk of reoffending, supporting individuals who have proved they have turned their lives around is a much more effective strategy than permanently shackling someone to a mistake they made in the distant past. While the right balance between rehabilitation and public protection must be struck, limiting the reach of Spent Convictions legislation is telling people with criminal convictions that they cannot change.” - Liam Herrick, Executive Director, IPRT

The lack of progress on the original legislation presents an opportunity for the new Minister to get it right. To this end, the Irish Penal Reform Trust is calling for a number of principles to be considered:

  • The 6-month limit, as previously proposed, doesn't go far enough: In the UK, a review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) has judged the limit of 30 month sentences to be too restrictive; IPRT calls for the new Bill to extend at least this far.
  • Rehabilitative periods must be proportionate and reasonable: The length of the required period of rehabilitation must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence committed, and yet must not be so long as to be discouraging.
  • Excluded categories of offence must be narrowly drawn: A presumption should apply that all convicted persons should be able to avail of spent convictions scheme, save for the most serious offences.
  • There should be no blanket exclusions: Categories of employment and training where candidates are required to disclose spent and unspent convictions should be drawn narrowly and apply only where a direct link can be shown between the offence committed and the category of employment or training sought, or where there is a need to protect children or vulnerable adults.
  • Discrimination against those with criminal records: Spent convictions legislation should introduce the prohibition of discrimination in employment, education and in access to goods and services on the basis of criminal convictions. Wider issues of data protection, the 'right to be forgotten', and the need for greater regulation of Garda Vetting information must also be addressed.

Speaking at the event, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT said:

“While IPRT very much welcomes Minister Shatter's announcement that the Bill will be reintroduced, IPRT strongly believes that a limit of 6-month sentences – as suggested by the Bill title in the Programme of Legislation – is not going far enough. Furthermore, the blanket exclusions of categories of offence, including insurance fraud, should be reconsidered except where there is direct relevance between the offence and the employment or service sought.”

Commenting in advance of the Forum, Tina Roche, CEO of Business in the Community Ireland stated:

“Former offenders in Ireland face significant barriers to re engagement in society. One of the greatest barriers is that they carry their criminal record with them for life which allows open discrimination against an individual, particularly in the area of employment. Irish society needs to realise that the vast majority of former offenders are no different to any other member of our community. They may be removed from general society for a certain period of time as a form of punishment but they have the right to return to society and have the same rights as any other person living in the community. Otherwise they will always remain isolated and find it very difficult to have a meaningful and positive impact on society.”

Speakers at the IPRT event included Bobby Cummines OBE, Chief Executive of UNLOCK, and a former gang member, bank robber and prisoner turned penal reform and crime reduction campaigner:

“The biggest barrier to rehabilitation is discrimination. In a true democratic and compassionate society, everyone who has offended must be given the opportunity to redeem themselves and not be subjected to the archaic rule of unforgiving revenge. If a society continually locks some members out, then there is another society ready to welcome them in with open arms and that is the criminal society that breeds more victims of crime at a great cost to the taxpayer.

“By allowing and encouraging rehabilitation and redemption, we end up with a stronger and safer society, where reformed offenders become taxpayers rather than a burden on the taxpayer and the next victim of crime does not happen. Social exclusion breeds a divided society and a weak society. Social inclusion builds a strong society and a safer society. I hope that the Spent Convictions Bill, will be a Bill that not only allows reformed offenders to redeem themselves but also eradicates the ugly face of social exclusion forever.”

Esther Lynch, Head of Legal and Social Affairs of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions also addressed the Forum:

“The reluctance to accept ex-offenders and particularly ex-prisoners into jobs will not change on its own. What's needed is the type of legislation being promoted by the IPRT to address ongoing and unfair discrimination. Routine questions on application forms or at interviews, such as “have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?” can mean that offences continue to be punished regardless of the length of time since the conviction or that the person has had no convictions since then, or that the offence has no relevance to the job being sought.”

The Forum also heard from people with criminal convictions who wish to move on from their offending pasts. Breaking the Record: Spent Convictions & Discrimination took place in Pearse St Library, Pearse St, Dublin 2 on Tues 10th May, 2011 from 5-630pm.

For all media enquiries, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400 E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES:

1. Breaking the Record – Spent Convictions & Discrimination

This Public Forum event took place Tuesday 10th May, 2011 from 5-7pm in Pearse St Library, 138-144 Pearse St, Dublin 2. More details here.

2. No ‘second chance’ legislation in Ireland

Ireland is the only country in the EU, and one of few in the Council of Europe area, which does not* have legislation allowing for convictions to be considered spent following a set rehabilitative period. (In the UK, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was passed in 1974, nearly 40 years ago.) Among the organisations who have called for fair and effective Spent Convictions legislation are the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Law Society of Ireland, the Law Reform Commission, the Equality Authority, the National Economic and Social Forum, Business in the Community Ireland, and organisations working for the rehabilitation of offenders.

* Under the Children Act 2001, there is provision for the expungement of most criminal convictions where the crime was committed when the person was aged under 18.

3. Spent Convictions Bill 2011

The new Government has committed to publishing a new Spent Convictions Bill by July 2011. See the most recent written response of Minister Shatter to a Dáil Question posed by Clare Daly TD on 7th April 2011

4. Spent Convictions Bill 2007

Introduced by then Minister Barry Andrews, IPRT welcomed this development in principle, but found that the Spent Convictions Bill 2007 had serious shortcomings, detailed here: IPRT Briefing on Spent Convictions (May 2011); IPRT Position Paper on Spent Convictions (Nov 2008)

5. Bobby Cummines OBE FRSA | Biography

Former gang member, bank robber, and prisoner, Bobby Cummines is today a leading figure in prison reform and crime reduction. As Chief Executive of UNLOCK, Bobby advises government on issues of prison reform and rehabilitation, including: House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee: Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (chaired Rt Hon John Denham), Specialist Advisor appointed by Home Secretary, Member of the Chief Inspector of Prison's Advisory Group, House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Prisoner Education, and NOMS South East Regional Reducing Re-offending Delivery Board. Bobby was awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List 2011 for services to reformed offenders. Read Bobby’s biography here:

6. UNLOCK, the National Association of Reformed Offenders | www.unlock.org.uk

Established in 2000 in England & Wales, UNLOCK works to reduce crime by helping reformed offenders overcome the social exclusion and discrimination that prevents them from successfully reintegrating into society, through: practical advice, support, information, knowledge and skills. It also acts as a voice for former offenders to influence discriminatory policies, behaviours and attitudes. UNLOCK is led by reformed offenders, including the Chair, Chief Executive and 50% of the Trustee Board. See here.

7. Business in the Community Ireland | www.bitc.ie

Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) is a non-profit organisation specialising in advice and guidance to leading companies in Ireland on Corporate Responsibility and Corporate Community Involvement. BITCI works with hundreds of companies nationwide through its innovative social inclusion programmes, including The Linkage Programme, Ready for Work, EPIC, The Mentoring Service and The Prisons Project targeting social inclusion.

8. Irish Congress of Trade Unions | www.ictu.ie 

The ICTU is the largest civil society organisation on the island of Ireland, representing and campaigning on behalf of some 832,000 working people. There are currently 55 unions affiliated to Congress, north and south of the border. The ICTU strives to achieve economic development, social cohesion and justice by upholding the values of solidarity, fairness and equality.

9. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie 

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.