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Spent Convictions Bill welcomed but legislation could go further in reducing barriers to reintegration - IPRT

4th May 2012

 

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today (Friday, 5th May, 2012) broadly welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 as a very positive step in supporting the rehabilitation of offenders. IPRT particularly welcomes the raising of the maximum limit to 12 months imprisonment and the shortening of the rehabilitation periods to 3-7 years as improvements on previous proposals. However, some issues remain which must be resolved in order to get the balance right between public safety and reducing barriers to reintegration for those who have moved on from offending behaviour.

Speaking today, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT said:

“IPRT very much welcomes the introduction of this Bill, which represents an improvement on previous proposals and brings Ireland into line with all other European countries which give less serious offenders a second chance.  At the same time, we believe that the legislation could go further than is currently proposed in terms of raising the maximum sentence covered by the bill, in shortening the rehabilitative periods, and in reconsidering the blanket exclusions of certain categories of employment, such as all persons working with children. To this end, IPRT will be engaging with groups working with children and for children’s rights to bring forward specific proposals which will strike the best balance between child protection and ensuring that irrelevant and historic minor convictions don’t exclude individuals from working in schools or with young people.”

Ireland is the only country in the EU which has no scheme for expungement of criminal convictions, and the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 now presents an opportunity to build on international experience and get it right. To this end, the Irish Penal Reform Trust is calling for a number of aspects to be strengthened:

  • 12-month limit: While the limit of 12-months as the maximum sentence to which the legislation will apply is an improvement on the 6-months originally proposed, IPRT believes the Bill should extend to at least 30 months. (In the UK, a 2011 review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) judged the limit of 30 month sentences to be too restrictive.)
  • Rehabilitative periods: Although the rehabilitative periods of 3-7 years represent an improvement on those originally proposed, IPRT believes that these could be shortened to 2-4 years. 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.
  • Exclusions from the Scheme: While IPRT supports the inclusion of a higher threshold for working with children and vulnerable adults, IPRT believes that a blanket exclusion on these wide areas of employment is too broad. Instead, the relevance of the conviction to the position sought should be considered. Whether this issue should be tackled by way of legislation or codes of practice remains to be seen, but jurisdictions such as Australia have found ways of distinguishing relevant from irrelevant convictions in this area. See for example here (Australia).
  • Discrimination against those with criminal records:
    The Spent Convictions Bill 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.

For all media enquiries, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer: 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1. Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012

Published today (Friday 4th May 2012), the Bill is available here: http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/bills/2012/3412/b34112s.pdf

2. Currently no ‘second chance’ legislation in Ireland

Ireland is currently 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. IPRT Briefing on Spent Convictions

A short document outlining the current situation with regard to spent convictions and why enacting legislation is so important. See here.

4. Barrier to Rehabilitation

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.

5. 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.

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