SCYJ is campaigning to reform the law on childhood criminal records to redress their disproportionate long-term impact.
England and Wales have a punitive system for the treatment of criminal records acquired as a child. Children 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 does not function in practice to help children who have committed crimes to reintegrate successfully into society. Instead it creates barriers that prevent them from moving beyond the mistakes of their past.
Children with a criminal record face stigma and discrimination in accessing education, training, employment, travel and housing. A large body of evidence finds that the disclosure of a criminal record has a negative effect on an individual’s ability to access education and employment – which are two key factors known to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Under the current system, the disproportionate effect of these records are felt long beyond the original sentence, and into adulthood.
An SCYJ report (found at the bottom of this article) into the treatment of childhood criminal records across a number of countries in Europe, Australasia and three states in the USA 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
Until a criminal record becomes ‘spent’ when it will no longer have to be disclosed in a basic criminal records check, an individual will have to disclose the record to employers, education providers and others. In order to reduce the negative effect of disclosure rules, rehabilitation periods must be reduced. SCYJ proposes the following changes to rehabilitation periods following convictions and cautions received as a child:
- Youth Rehabilitation Orders (YROs) should become spent as soon as the order is finished. This would bring YRO rehabilitation periods in line with Referral Order rehabilitation periods which are spent as soon as the order ends.
- Detention and Training Orders (DTOs) should become spent six months after the order has finished. This would reduce rehabilitation periods for DTOs considerably. Currently RPs for DTOs are as follows: DTOs of less than 6 months are spent 18 months after the end of the order; DTOs of over 6 months are spent two years after the end of the order.
- All under 18 custodial sentences greater than two years and less than four years should become spent two years after the end of the sentence.
- Under 18 custodial sentences greater than four years and less than life should become spent seven years after the end of the sentence. Currently, custodial sentences of more than four years for under 18s can never be spent. This change would mean that a child’s custodial sentence could always become spent at some point in the future, unless they were on a life sentence.
Filtering is the process that will identify and remove convictions and cautions so that they are no longer disclosed on DBS checks. In order to reduce the negative impact on rehabilitation, SCYJ recommends increasing the number of convictions and cautions which do not have to be revealed in such checks, and to reduce the timeframes before filtering can occur.
- All under-18 cautions are automatically filtered out after a two-year time limit.
- There is no limit on the number of under-18 convictions that can be filtered out providing they did not result in a prison sentence, and providing that four years have elapsed since the last conviction. The police have discretion as to whether or not to filter under 18 convictions that resulted in a prison sentence providing four years have elapsed since the end of their last sentence or order.
- Police guidance should make it clear that if a person has any unspent convictions, none of their convictions should be filtered.
- Guidance to police should be amended, setting out the presumption that under-18 police intelligence is not disclosed.
Wiping the Slate Clean
- Ten years after the end of the sentence, or order, for the last offence committed, convictions or cautions received as a child should be wiped from the Police National Computer and Police National Database and may not be disclosed by police as part of an enhanced check. Wiping would only be available if a person has not reoffended for ten years.