Talking Point: Spent Energy

Written by Alan Robertson on 30 April 2014

Legislation can only go so far. Certainly, such a fact is not lost on those inside our prisons when it comes to talk of updating the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

Under the Act, ex-offenders can see convictions become spent after a specified period of time, ranging from six months to ten years. Exemptions exist, such as work in the financial sector, childcare, and health service provision, where spent convictions must be disclosed, while convictions that entail sentences of more than two-and-a-half years are never spent.

The Scottish Government made it their intention to review the legislation with publication of a discussion paper last August. The results are unequivocal.

Almost all respondents to the paper said that the 1974 Act is not fit for purpose. Expect to see a change, then. But how far it will go is another matter.

The Act exacerbates problems for some ex-prisoners by stipulating, for example, that those sentenced to more than two-and-a-half years will never see their conviction spent. Not only is this based on a wholly arbitrary figure that ignores changes in sentencing down the years, it fails to acknowledge that rehabilitation efforts have been demonstrated to produce better results for those serving longer sentences.

Discussions with prisoners and staff inside seven Scottish establishments as part of the consultation process raised one massive stumbling block that legislation will not easily overcome.

There is, says feedback compiled by Positive Prison? Positive Futures, a “widespread feeling there would be no point in any changes to ROA if public and employer attitudes [are] not changed in a constructive way”.

That is certainly the greater challenge; one that companies such as Timpsons, the biggest employer of ex-offenders in Britain, has demonstrated is a route worth going down.

“It’s good for business and I will argue with anyone who tells me it’s not,” Dennis Phillips, Timpson Foundation, Academy and Welfare manager, told Holyrood last year.

That is a discussion that will undoubtedly need to follow if legislative changes are to have a real tangible effect.

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