Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT survey demonstrates need for expanded rehabilitation law

5th February 2019

IPRT survey demonstrates need for expanded rehabilitation law to reduce obstacles to work, training and education for people with old convictions

MEDIA ADVISORY

People in Ireland with minor convictions histories are continuing to experience difficulty accessing work, education and insurance due to narrow spent convictions legislation, and the current blanket wait period of 7 years before any conviction can become spent lacks proportionality. The Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane addresses issues of eligibility, proportionality, and introduces a new approach for young adults. IPRT welcomes the Bill as a strong step towards a more fair system, and is calling on all TDs and Senators to engage positively with the legislation as it progresses.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) was responding today (Tuesday, 5 February 2019) to the launch of the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 [PMB] by Senator Lynn Ruane. The Bill was introduced in the Seanad on 20 December 2018, and is expected to return at second stage debate this month.

The long-lasting impact of a criminal record on people’s access to housing, work, volunteering, education, and insurance is illustrated by the findings of an online survey conducted by IPRT from 25 Jan to 1 Feb 2019. In total, 148 people with convictions histories completed the survey.

Employment was the area of most concern, with 81% (120) of respondents stating that having a conviction had had a negative impact on ‘getting a job’. Other issues negatively impacted by having a conviction or convictions were emigration (56% / 83 respondents); volunteering (53% / 79 respondents); insurance (39% / 58 respondents); access to education (29% / 43 respondents); getting a promotion (18% / 26 respondents). Only 3% (5) said their convictions had had no negative impact.

The most serious punishment received by 25% (37) of respondents was a fine; for 8% (11) it was a disposal under the Probation Act or a Community Service Order. Suspended sentences of less than 24 months was the highest sanction received by 16% (24) of respondents; and a suspended sentence of more than 24 months was received by 10% (15). 15% (22) had served prison sentences of less than 12 months and 26% (39) had served prison sentences of greater than 12 months.

It had been 10 years or more since 55% (81) of the respondents have been convicted of an offence. 16% (24) of the respondents had not received a further conviction in 20 years or more. 9% (14) had not received a further conviction in 25 years or more. When asked if the respondents had benefitted from the current spent convictions legislation, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, only 9% (14) said yes.

Limitations in the scope of the 2016 Act means it does not fulfil its rehabilitative purpose, and is of no benefit to people who were convicted of more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences), even where the offences were minor and committed decades ago. Therefore, IPRT strongly welcomes the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 as an opportunity to improve the situation for people with old convictions who want to move on with their lives.

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“The current spent convictions law in Ireland is disappointingly limited and does not fulfil its rehabilitative aims. There are thousands of people in Ireland who have not committed an offence in 10, 15 or 20 years, but who cannot benefit from the 2016 Act. In the meantime, they experience daily obstacles to accessing work, education, volunteering, insurance and travel, long after their punishment has been served.”

“The Bill launched by Senator Lynn Ruane today 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. 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 is in line with policy trends across Europe, and 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. 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.”

IPRT has campaigned for over 12 years for an extensive legislative scheme whereby certain convictions are no longer declared after a set rehabilitative period. In February 2016, IPRT welcomed the passing of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, acknowledging that it would benefit people with very minor convictions histories, mainly minor motoring and public order offences. However, we were disappointed at the narrow application of the 2016 Act, and called for the 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

It is IPRT’s position that the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 [PMB] introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane is a very positive step towards addressing these issues.

For more information on IPRT’s campaign, see: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions  

For further comment, or an interview with IPRT Executive Director, Deirdre Malone, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990 (media enquiries only)

NOTES:

1. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has been campaigning for a strong and robust spent convictions scheme in Ireland since 2006. See: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions 
IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

2. The Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 [PMB] introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane is available to read here and a copy of its explanatory memorandum is available here.

3. The existing law, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 (available here) was enacted on 29 April 2016. It is IPRT’s position that this law fails to fulfil its rehabilitative objectives. Under the legislation, the following convictions may become spent after 7 years:

  • Convictions for certain motoring and public order offences received in the district court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.   
  • One other conviction received in the district or circuit court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.
  • A number of exclusions and conditions apply; convictions for sexual offences are excluded from the scheme.

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