Monday, August 01, 2016

For a broader clean slate law

In 2004, Parliament passed the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act. The law allowed tens of thousands of New Zealanders to leave past minor criminal offending behind them and get on with their lives, untainted by stupid mistakes they have long since remedied. It was a step forward for civilisation. But it doesn't go far enough: people who served jail time must still disclose their convictions, even if they happened decades ago. And as Radio New Zealand reports, the consequences can be severe and unjust:

Eric Knight wants the criminal records of people who spent less than a year in jail at least 20 years ago concealed.

In the mid-'80s, as a teenager, he spent nine months in jail on burglary charges.

He said he was "young and stupid" and has not broken the law since.

Yet for the past six years, after he had to leave his job working for a spa pool company because of an injured thumb, he has been unemployed.

"I'm trying my best to find a job but I can't because the law is hanging over my head saying I'm a criminal and people can't employ me," he said.

Mr Knight has paid his debt to society, and has clearly reformed. And yet he's continuing to be punished (and punished disproportionately) twenty years after the fact. And that is not only unjust - it is stupid. To point out the obvious, if you want people to stop being criminals, you need to give them a way forward and opportunities not to be. The current system denies that - and by doing so, incentivises further offending.

There's currently a petition before Parliament, which the Law Society is supporting. You should too. Because the current law is an ass which imposes disproportionately severe punishment on people who have changed their lives. We can, and should, do better.