“This is a landmark Bill…in providing hope to many people who have felt themselves excluded from society by a past misdemeanour. It is another tile in the mosaic of measures introduced in recent times to reduce recidivism and facilitate reintegration into society. It is targeted at the person who makes a mistake and wants to move on.”
IASIO, the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders, welcomed this statement, in June of 2012, along with the rest of the speech made by Minister for Justice, Defence and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., regarding the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill (2012). According to the Minister the bill balances “the rights of those offenders who want to leave crime behind them while safeguarding the legitimate interests of society where serious serial criminals are concerned”. The bill states that in general, a person who has a spent conviction will not be required to disclose it to, for example, potential employers or other parties. The bill is retrospective and applies to all convictions, regardless of when they occurred; however, no more than two convictions per individual may become spent.
IASIO applauded the Minister’s decision to adopt a more “liberal” approach than initially recommended in a report by the Law Reform Commission in relation to most of the legislation’s key provisions. “It is my strong view that, if legislation like this is to have any meaningful impact, then it must err on the side of generosity to the offender who has paid his or her debt to society, has left criminality behind, and just wants to move on. The provisions in this Bill are an antidote to recidivism and support the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders”.
Mr. Paddy Richardson, Chief Executive Officer of IASIO and board member of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, commended the Minister’s progressive approach to the bill, the passage of which could represent a significant step forward in a move towards a holistic criminal justice system. It corresponds to broader changes in how fines, community service and restorative justice will be dealt with in the future; one which seeks to focus on the reintegration of offenders once they have made reparations to society. IASIO supports the Minister’s standpoint on this, and advocates that the alternative, i.e. excluding ex-offenders from normal society and particularly from employment, is in no-one’s interest as it can often result in recidivism at great cost, both to the State and to society.
Indeed, IASIO has consistently advocated for ring fenced funding to be made available for rehabilitative programmes for prisoners and ex-offenders as cost saving alternatives to detention in prison, particularly for those convicted of minor offences. The Minister pointed out that neither does the bill wipe the slate clean since offences remain on record. However, it allows ex-offenders, after a certain period of time has elapsed, to move on with their lives. The Minister highlighted that this would be particularly important where relatively minor offences, committed in youth, are concerned.
The Bill now provides for prison sentences of 12 months or less . A 12 month threshold would, where no other convictions exist, account for 90% of all persons committed to jail in Ireland in 2010. The second key variable is the rehabilitation period; that is the period during which the person must remain conviction-free in order for a conviction to become spent. For custodial sentences of 6 months or less, the proposed rehabilitation period will be 5 years. For sentences of between 6 and 9 months, the period will be 6 years, and for sentences of between 9 and 12 months, the rehabilitation period will be 7 years. For non-custodial sentences, the rehabilitation periods will range from 3 years to 5 years. The Minister argued that “if this legislation is to be of any material use to those who want to move on to gainful employment, then the range of excluded employments must be kept to a minimum. However, any employment involving direct or indirect contact with children or vulnerable adults is excluded. Equally any employment involving the conduct of the international relations of the state, the administration of justice or the security of the state are excluded. Outside of that most employments are covered by the provisions of the legislation.”
The Irish Penal Reform Trust, of which IASIO is a member, along with the Human Rights Commission, in separate written submissions, raised the issue of the interaction between this Spent Convictions Bill and the forthcoming National Vetting Bureau Bill which will put vetting in relation to positions involving children and vulnerable adults on a statutory footing. It is essential that the two Bills work in harmony, something the Minister believes can be achieved with appropriate cross-referencing between the two pieces of legislation.
“A previous conviction, including one that resulted in the jailing of an individual, should not be a mark on that person for all time, in all but the minority of serious cases. Instead, we as a society should be encouraging the person to move on and integrate themselves into normal society. Employers have a duty to consider everyone who applies for a job on their merits.”
IASIO is heartened by the Minister’s closing statement and eagerly anticipates the passing and enactment of the bill into law.
Latest update on the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012
IASIO, the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders, welcomes the speech made by Lucinda Creighton TD, Minister of State on behalf of Minister for Justice, Defence and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., on the 13th March 2013 regarding the recently updated Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill (2012). The Minister of State singled out the Irish Penal Reform Trust, of which Mr. Paddy Richardson, Chief Executive Officer of IASIO is a board member, for special praise for their “considered reasoned analyses of our proposals.”
In her speech, Deputy Creighton reiterated the Minister’s commitment to rehabilitation and the social integration of offenders and ex-prisoners. “When a person has paid his or her debt to society, it is in the best interests of society and of the offender that the person is rehabilitated and reintegrated with all speed. Any gap between “normal” society and the offender is liable to be filled by more offending. This we must avoid by a focus on youth diversion, and by the use of non-custodial options, such as probation, community service and restorative justice.”
Since its introduction last year, the bill has been “amended in a number of significant respects” by members of the Seanad. The amendments and IASIO’s response are summarised below:
Subsection 2(4) of the bill has been added in the Seanad. It states that a person convicted of more than one offence at one sitting of the court is considered to have received one conviction for the purposes of this Bill. Therefore a person convicted of a number of related issues at one sitting, (e.g. road traffic offences or public order offences relating to one incident) will not have used up or exceeded the two conviction limit in one go. Without this provision “the Bill would be of no benefit to many of the people that it is intended to assist.”
In addition, if a person requires a copy of their criminal record from the Garda Síochána, the record will be provided in two distinct parts, with the spent convictions provided separately. “This means that in most cases, a person who is required to provide a copy of their criminal record will be able to produce a clean record, provided that if they have been convicted, their conviction or convictions are spent.”
Ms Creighton, T.D. concluded her speech by reemphasising the progressive and enlightened tone of the amended Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill (2012). “It is another step on the road to the development of a more mature approach to how we deal with crime generally.” IASIO echoes the Minister of State’s commendation of the bill and looks forward to it being enshrined in law in the near future.
IASIO is a non-profit organisation specialising in the life planning, support and social inclusion of people with criminal convictions.