SCYJ is campaigning to reform the law on childhood criminal records to allow children who have been in trouble with the law to grow up, and move on with their lives.
Children in England and Wales are more likely to receive a criminal record than their international counterparts, and these records have a longer and more profound effect on their lives.
Domestic and international provisions define the purpose of the youth justice system as rehabilitation, not retribution. Yet the criminal records policy in England and Wales prevents children from putting their past behind them. A childhood record acts as a barrier to education, employment and housing, all of which are shown to have a positive impact on reoffending. Our criminal records system thus works against rehabilitation and so against the aims of the youth justice system.
An SCYJ report (found at the bottom of this article) into the treatment of childhood criminal records in 16 jurisdictions highlights how far England and Wales have to travel in order to match the progress made by other countries in their treatment of childhood criminal records. The report finds England and Wales to be in a class of their own in awarding tens of thousands criminal records to children, all of which will adversely impacting on their life chances. International comparison shows that less punitive systems can promote successful rehabilitation.
SCYJ propose that meaningful changes must be made on how criminal records acquired as a child are held, and accessed, and a decision made on the point at which these records should no longer be disclosed. These changes will allow children who have desisted from crime to put their past behind them, and in so doing strike a better balance between public safety and individual rehabilitation.
Specifically, we recommend that:
- Rehabilitation periods are reduced significantly;
- A presumption is introduced that under-18 police intelligence is not disclosed;
- The filtering system is expanded (including getting rid of the “two offences rule” and the “list of exempt offences”, and reducing the time it takes to filter offences) and a review mechanism introduced, so that discretion can be applied to disclosure.
More detail on these recommendations is included in the report on England and Wales, below. We would also like provision for childhood records to be wiped (ie deleted from police computers) introduced in the future, though exceptions for the most serious violent and sexual offences may be required.