If a person has committed a crime, should their criminal record hang over their head for the rest of their lives?
Or, after a certain number of years, should their criminal record be wiped clean, so they can live their lives free from the restrictive societal shackles that a criminal record holds?
The latter is known as the Clean Slate Act. The act is already active in New Zealand, but do we have anything like this in the UK? And, more importantly, is it a good idea?
Over 9 million people across the UK have a criminal record.
Currently, a criminal record stays on the Police National Computer system until the individual reaches 100 year old. Only then is it deleted.
Only 1 in 100 people live until they’re 90, let alone 100.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 states that if a person has received a caution or been convicted and this penalty has been spent, this is considered rehabilitated. This means they no longer have to disclose their criminal record to potential employers, insurance companies and landlords, for example.
There are, of course, exceptions. The length of rehabilitation depends on the type of sentence and the date of conviction. Life imprisonment, detention of a young offender for more than four years and a sentence of custody for life are never considered ‘spent’ in the eyes of the law. This means that these types of offenders will always have to disclose their criminal record in certain scenarios.
The rehabilitation period may differ for some offences. A conviction may not be considered ‘spent’ as soon as the offender steps out of prison. If a person has been imprisoned for up to six months, for instance, their rehabilitation period is 7 years. This means that for 7 years after they’ve spent time in jail, they will need to disclose their criminal record.
One of the biggest benefits of Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is how it can help individuals with a criminal conviction when applying for jobs.
As mentioned above, once the conviction has been ‘spent’, a candidate can effectively lie about their past and tick the ‘no’ box when asked if they have previously committed a crime.
Usually, most employers will ask if a candidate has any unspent convictions. This is standard protocol and this is where it gets a bit sticky.
Any unspent convictions must be admitted in these circumstances.
If asked about all convictions, this may depend on the crime and the time after the conviction has been spent. This will determine the level of disclosure.
There are certain jobs that are exempt from the Act, even if the crime has been spent. These usually require a standard or enhanced DBS check (a Disclosure and Barring Service check), which reveals all spent and unspent convictions.
Roles such as working in law enforcement, the prison service, the health service and jobs working with children, the elderly and the disabled, always warrant conviction disclosure, no matter how far in the past it was.
Whether a minor offence or a serious crime, when a conviction has been spent, a criminal record can continue to have a damaging impact on that person’s life. From the mental health implications of guilt and embarrassment, to the limitations it creates on seemingly ‘normal’ tasks.
And rightly so, you might say. This person has committed a crime, after all.
But what if the person has recognised their actions, changed their ways and not only learnt, but grown from the experience? Time heals all, as they say.
Should a person be subjected to having to remember something from their past, an experience they may well wish to forget, every time they apply for a job or take out home insurance?
In 2004, a new criminal records act, known as the Clean Slate Act, came into place in New Zealand.
This acts states that you’re said to have no criminal record if all of the following are true:
If you have a criminal record, yet all of the above apply, then you are given a clean slate. But, what does this really mean?
If all of the above requirements are met, then a person’s criminal convictions are automatically hidden.
Like the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974, individuals in New Zealand may still have to disclose whether they have a criminal record when applying for some jobs. However, for the most part, when asked about their criminal convictions this can be concealed from an employer.
While the New Zealand government has chosen to change the law completely, the UK is yet to make this move. This is why a company called ‘Ban the Box’ has started a movement and gone straight to the source: employers.
‘Ban the box’ is an international campaign with the aim of ensuring that people with convictions have a fair chance to compete for jobs.
This company is encouraging employers to give every candidate a fair chance.
'Ban the Box' see so many people held back when applying for jobs, purely because they have to tick the ‘yes’ box when asked about convictions. Their ethos is to try and get employers to look past the stigma that having a conviction holds.
This movement may not be as powerful as a complete law change, but it is helping to change the way in which employers sift through candidates and recruit them. If this campaign continues to grow, this might spark interest in the UK government to change the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974 to a Clean Slate Act, just like that of New Zealand.
For starters, look at the work that ‘Ban the Box’ does. Get in contact with them. They’re always keen to work with new employers to put procedures and practices in place to make recruiting for any role as fair as possible.
Secondly, look at the Clean Act made by New Zealand and work from that. Tweak it slightly if you have to, but this should be a good guide to how you can implement this when looking for new candidates.
While a concrete law might not be in place, you can change the conversation around convictions like so many have already done.
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