A child who has offended in England and Wales is shackled to the mistakes of their past by a criminal record system which is punitive, and holds them back from reaching their full potential, according to a report released today by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ).
The report which reviews criminal record systems in over a dozen countries finds England and Wales to be an outlier in the extent to which it ties children to past offending.
“A child in England and Wales is not only more likely to acquire a criminal record, but this record will affect them for longer, and more profoundly, than in any of the countries reviewed” said Penelope Gibbs, Chair of the SCYJ.
“A child who has shoplifted a couple of times will suffer the disproportionate penalty of not only having the offences recorded for life, but also having to disclose it at key points – such as entering university or applying for certain jobs, such as a teacher, or a police officer. No other country reviewed inflicts such tough penalties on a child who offends.”
The far reaching effects on a child go well beyond their sentence. Children with a criminal record face stigma and discrimination in accessing education, training, employment, travel and housing and these obstacles can follow a child into adulthood impacting adversely on their life chances and their ability to reintegrate positively in to society.
In 2013/14 over 60,000 cautions and convictions -all with criminal record implications- were handed out to children in England and Wales. These records will have to be disclosed for many years, and some forever.
The SCYJ is launching a campaign today calling for radical reform of the law on childhood criminal records. Its recommendations include shorter rehabilitation periods, expanding the current filtering system, and wiping the slate clean after ten years.
Chris Stacey of ‘Unlock’, in supporting SCYJ’s campaign for reform, states, “Children that commit crime need to be rehabilitated and our youth justice system is supposed to be specifically designed to not impose retributions. However, when it comes to criminal records, the system treats children in a very similar way to adults.
There are many parts to the criminal record disclosure system that are disproportionate and unnecessary. A specific attempt to ensure that criminal records do not blight the lives of children is long-overdue. That’s why we’re actively supporting the campaign launched today. The recommended changes would result in a fairer and more calibrated system.”
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice
SCYJ is a membership body, representing over fifty organisations, campaigning for a better youth justice system. We pool the expertise of our members to work on issues surrounding children in trouble with the law. Our work focuses on policy and legislation affecting all aspects of the youth justice system and young people caught up in it – from policing to resettlement.
We advocate a child-focused youth justice system that promotes the integration of children in trouble with the law into society and tackles the underlying causes of offending. Such a system would serve the best interests of the children themselves and the community at large.
Link to documents:
Tessa Murphy, Programme Manager, SCYJ, 07481 855 127