Members of our Prisons Project and Criminal Convictions Unit write about the introduction of The Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019 by the Scottish Government.
For the citizens of Scotland, with previous criminal convictions, Tuesday the 1st December 2020 was a landmark day. In an attempt to support ex-offenders, on the path to employment, the Scottish Government have introduced The Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019. This legislation amends provisions within the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and will result in fewer convictions appearing on Disclosure Scotland checks, for people applying for jobs.
So, what is a spent conviction? When a court hands down a sentence, that sentence will appear on the offender’s criminal record. Depending on the nature of the offence, the offender, when applying for a job or a disclosure, is required to disclose any unspent criminal convictions. Unspent convictions are those convictions that have not yet reached the defined time period outlined by law when the offender no longer needs to disclose his/her offence(s) to an employer/ future employer.
So how does this legislation change things?
For non-custodial sentences the disclosure changes include:
- For community payback orders, a reduction from five years to 12 months or the length of the order, whichever is longer;
- For fines, a reduction from five years to 12 months;
- An admonishment or absolute discharge will no longer need to be disclosed.
For custodial sentences, disclosure periods will be:
- For sentences up to 12 months, the length of the sentence plus two years;
- For sentences between 12 and 30 months, the length of the sentence plus four years;
- For sentences between 30 and 48 months, the length of the sentence plus six years.
Offenders aged under 18 at time of conviction have the additional period reduced by half.
Over the next year these changes will have a major impact on the daily work of Strathclyde Law Clinic Prison Project Outreach Programme. This programme sees law clinic volunteers interact with prisoners at Scotland HMP Low Moss Prison. The programme helps educate and prepare prisoners for life after prison, including helping on the path to employment.
Speaking about the legislative developments in this area, Prison Project coordinator, Emelia Connor welcomed the positive steps, “”Having been involved with the prison project for the past 4 years and worked closely with HMP Low Moss, I am so relieved to see this change to the law and the positive impact it will have on ex-offenders. We look forward to continuing to work alongside the prison and informing as many ex-offenders about this momentous change to the law.”
The introduction of the new legislation has also been widely welcomed across the political, economic, and voluntary sector.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf highlighted the need for change: “Parliament agreed that current disclosure periods are too long. Employment and the skills, opportunities and hope that it brings, can support routes out of offending, thereby contributing to safer communities.”
‘Pressure Group Scotland’ believes it will have a positive impact. They see the Act as “good for business allowing access to a wider talent pool and the removal of some hiring barriers, employers in Scotland will be able to recruit more widely than ever before.”
Phil Martin is the founder of ‘Ex Seed’, a support service network for people with convictions. He believes the changes are long overdue, “I am pleased with the changes in Scotland of the Management Offenders Act 2019 which allow people to gain their freedom from the shadow of disclosure a little earlier than would have otherwise been the case. It is important that we give real weight to the “ex” in “ex-offender” so that it is not just individuals who see themselves as changed, but society which also allows people to leave their mistakes in the past and move on to live crime-free and fulfilling lives.”
Indeed these changes form part of a wider cultural change in society towards Ex-Offenders. In recent years, well known high street brands and corporations like Virgin Trains, Greggs, Timpson and Marks & Spencer have initiated programmes to rehabilitate ex-offenders and bring them back into the workplace.
Figures last year, for the Department of Justice in the UK, showed just 17% of ex-offenders get jobs upon release from prison, and of the 17% around 9% are less likely to reoffend.
The new legislation forms part of a wider UK strategy in this area. In 2017 the UK Civil Service reaffirmed its ambition to become the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020, through the publication of its ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.’ More recently, in 2018, the Ministry of Justice published their ‘Education and Employment Strategy’, to create a system where each person with a criminal record is set on a path to employment from the outset.