Research into impact of minor convictions ‘highlights need for expanded rehabilitation law’

Deirdre Malone
Deirdre Malone

New research into the experiences of people in Ireland with minor convictions highlights the need for an expanded rehabilitation law, penal reform campaigners have said.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has published the findings of a new survey it conducted to coincide with the launch of the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018, a private member’s bill from Senator Lynn Ruane.

The bill, which expands spent convictions legislation to address issues of eligibility, proportionality, and a new approach for young adults, was introduced in the Seanad late last year and is expected to return at second stage debate this month.

Only nine per cent of respondents to the IPRT survey, whose findings will be published in full next week, said they had benefited from the current spent convictions regime under the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.

A majority of the 148 respondents, all with convictions histories, said their conviction had a negative impact on finding a job (81 per cent), volunteering (53 per cent). Significant numbers reported an impact on insurance (39 per cent) and access to education (29 per cent).

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the IPRT, 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 reflects policy trends across Europe, and is 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.”

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