Spent conviction time reductions proposed

Scales of justice The rules of sentences of over four years will not change

A proposal to cut periods in which convictions become spent in England and Wales could see criminals' records cleared earlier.

Spent convictions do not have to be declared to employers, which would help those with a criminal record get work.

The 10 years it currently takes for a six to 30-month sentence to be spent could be reduced to four years.

The proposal will be included in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

It would shorten the period during which a conviction remains live, unspent and has to be declared to prospective employers, insurance companies and in civil proceedings.

Community order sentences, currently live for five years, would be spent after a year; the period for sentences of up to six months in custody would reduce from seven years to two years.

End of sentence

Sentences of 30 months to four years, which are currently never spent, would only remain live for seven years under the plans - and could relate to some serious assaults and sexual assaults.

Analysis

This amendment is designed to get offenders who have served their sentences back into work. The government believes that work reduces re-offending.

Someone sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison would currently have to declare the conviction for ten years. That drops to four.

But it isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds, because while the current ten-year period runs from the date of conviction, the proposed new period runs from the end of the sentence imposed.

But the rules on sentences of more than four years, also currently never spent, would not change.

For example, someone sentenced to four years for a serious assault - who served two years and two out on licence - would currently never see their conviction become spent.

Under the new plans it would be spent 11 years from the date the sentence is passed, comprising four years of the sentence, followed by the seven-year unspent period.

The change would not affect work exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, for example those working with vulnerable people and children and in schools and hospitals.

Justice Minister Lord McNally said the changes would remove some of the barriers stopping former criminals getting into work.

"Criminals must be suitably punished for their crimes," said Lord McNally. "But it is no good for anyone if they go to jail and come out and then can't get an honest job and so turn back to crime again.

"That is why we are bringing forward reforms which will give offenders who have served their sentence a fair chance of getting back on the straight and narrow, while ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the public."

'Missed opportunity'

The Prison Reform Trust said it was a "welcome first step" to enabling reformed offenders to get a job and lead a law-abiding life.

Its director, Juliet Lyon, said people who are unemployed and homeless on leaving prison have a reoffending rate of 74% during the year after custody, compared with 43% of those with a job and somewhere to live.

She said: "There is scope for government to go further, for example by wiping the slate clean for many young offenders who have committed petty crimes so they stand a better chance of finding honest work and turning their lives around."

Reformed offenders' charity Unlock, which has been campaigning for the reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, said it was disappointed by the proposal, as it would help only people handed shorter sentences.

The charity's chief executive, Bobby Cummines, spent 13 years in prison for bank robbery and has since been awarded an OBE.

He said: "No matter what we do, in the eyes of the law, people like me can never be rehabilitated.

"There's so much discrimination in the job market. The previous government failed to act. This government is in danger of missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity. People need hope."

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