Thursday, 16 September 2010

Rehabilitation of Offenders - (1) Overview

Probably most people would agree that offenders ought to be given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves into society.  Nevertheless, a balance has to be achieved between the rehabilitation of the offender and public protection from those who have offended and might re-offend if placed in certain situations.  In passing the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, an attempt was made to achieve such a balance.

It is a complex scheme in which the length of the rehabilitation period depends on the length of sentence imposed and not on the offence for which it was imposed.  Those offenders sentenced to more than two and half years imprisonment will never have that conviction "spent".  Those sentenced to two and half years or less may have their conviction "spent" once a rehabilitation period has been successfully completed (i.e. usually without further conviction in the period).  For some purposes, set out in an "Exceptions order", convictions which attracted even those shorter convictions never become spent.  There are also differences between the scheme applicable to adult offenders and that for young persons who have offended.

Convictions for recordable offences are put on to the Police National Computer and will usually remain there long after they have become "spent" under the 1974 Act.  The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has issued "guidelines" about the retention of records.

In 2001, Jack Straw announced a review of the 1974 Act .  In 2010, the workings of the Act are again being questioned and NACRO has launched a campaign aimed at persuading MPs that the law is in need of reform.  In particular, the rehabilitation periods are considered to be too onerous and operate to prevent people getting employment.

The workings of the 1974 Act scheme must also be considered in relation to the various types of CRB checks and the various forms of "disclosure" are explained in the CRB Code of Practice   See also the Vetting and Barring Scheme.

Further information about the Act may be read at Your Rights , at Prison Reform Trust and at Criminal Records Bureau.

This makes for a very complex situation and several aspects of it require more detailed consideration which I hope to do in some future posts. 

Is this scheme as unfair on former offenders as NACRO are suggesting?  I suspect that they are right.  The considered views of readers will be more than welcome.


  1. The provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Acts are unnecessary, wrong in principle, and either ineffectual or actually harmful in practice.

    The long version is below, but, succinctly, the legal and medical professions are excluded, for obvious reasons – propensities to dishonesty, violence, or intoxication matter. What is not obvious is why they are not thought to matter in the professions of cashier, ticket inspector, or heavy machinery operator.


    The provisions are unnecessary in that they suppose a falsehood – that people with convictions for relatively minor offences will be unable to find any work, thus hurting their rehabilitation. Only that could justify the Act, yet it is patently untrue.

    What is true, is that people with convictions, may find certain careers closed to them. One with convictions for dishonesty might find it hard to get a job with a particular requirement for honesty, such as being a keyholder or handling cash. One with convictions for violence might not be put in a position where they have to deal with the general public, such as traffic warden or ticket inspector. There is no injustice in that – there are thousands of different jobs, if not hundreds of thousands – let them do something else.

    It is wrong in principle because it legitimises pretence and falsehood, even undermining the principles of justice by allowing lying under oath. It is wrong because it requires things which are impossible: If you come to hear that one of your employees has a conviction for fraud, you will not put him in a higher-paid position where he has the opportunity to commit fraud, no matter that the law says you may take no adverse action against him. It is foolish to suppose otherwise.

    And, should the act succeed in its intent, it is harmful because it will put people in a position to do wrong, who have already, by their actions, shown a propensity to do so. This is immoral: one does not offer an alchoholic a dring, nor should one put temptation in the way of a person one knows to be susceptible - it does not help their rehabilitation.

    What is more, everyone acknowledges secretly that it is wrong – subverting the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is one of the main purposes of CRB checks, after all.

    Finally, it is wrong in principle because it subverts the relationship between the state and the people. The state may know these things, may keep these records forever. Yet, we the ordinary plebeian masses must do our best to forget, even if we know of them first-hand.


    The truth of rehabilitation is the same as in the joke:

    How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None, It will change when it is ready.

    The best way to rehabilitate offenders is to encourage this change of heart. Then a bad reputation can be lived down, which is the only true way to lose it.

    Fear of punishment would go a long way, and would be the most helpful measure we can offer to those who truly want to change.

  2. Once you served your sentence and therefore repaid your debt to society, you need a chance to get things right. A fresh start is an incentive for not breaking the law again. By having a criminal record for life is like a stigma and in fact may have an adverse psychological impact on an individual who may feel that everything is lost and why abide to law anyway. It is a piece of legislation that restores the potential of having a normal life. A bad past that has been buried forever. Of course some exceptions needs to be in place like a compulsive sex offender and other areas of employment as the actual law describes.