6 Nov 2018

Former prisoners want in on clean slate after seven years

9:56 am on 6 November 2018

People who have been in prison are calling for their criminal records to be wiped if they keep out of trouble for seven years.

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People who were in jail are now calling for a change to the Clean Slate Act, so that they can also be included in the legislation after seven years of a clean slate. Photo: 123rf

Under the Clean Slate Act, people can have their criminal history hidden from employers if they have not reoffended within that timeframe.

However, some offences are excluded for eligibility, and it does not apply to people who have been in prison, corrective training or a borstal.

When Adrian Pritchard committed armed robbery of a superette in Mt Albert in Auckland, he was heavily into drugs and gangs.

It earned the Hastings man his second lag behind bars - he was sentenced to eight years but served six behind bars.

"I was searching for an identity - my dream was to become a celebrity - to become a rock star, but drugs got the best of me," he said.

However, Mr Pritchard found the church in prison, and he has not committed any offence since he left in 1998.

"I have been out of jail now for 20 years, I am married now with three kids, I can't provide for them because I can't work," he said.

"I am a qualified mental health and addiction support worker - I can't get a job, even with my qualification, because of my past."

He is calling for a change to the Clean Slate Act, to allow people who have served time in prison to also be eligible for a clean slate after seven years.

"That's seven years, that's gone, that's wiped, we paid our dues and we need to move on now.

"Otherwise, society is just going to keep numbering you as a number, as a criminal, as they say, once a criminal always a criminal, that's not true.

"People do change."

A 41-year-old Wellington man, who only wants to be known by his first name Darcy, said he applied for 80 jobs in the past fortnight.

Darcy puts the rejections down to his criminal record, which includes imprisonment for kidnapping and methamphetamine charges.

He spent more than four years in prison over three stints, and he's not offended for 10 years.

"If you can remain offence free for seven years, it is a pretty clear indication that you are trying to rehabilitate yourself and that you have rehabilitated yourself."

The qualified advanced network engineer has been out of work for five weeks, after his last contract came to a close.

"Every rejection gets worse and worse," he said.

"I have been for 12 job interviews face-to-face and ya know, just getting rejection after rejection is pretty disappointing."

In 2016, a petition went to Parliament asking MPs to consider giving clean slates to people who served under a year in prison.

The Justice and Electoral Committee released a report afterwards but it did not recommend reviewing the law.

Howard League patron Nigel Hampton QC said research showed that risk of reoffending after seven years' crime-free was very low.

He said the law needed to include people who served time in prison.

"Young people, particularly young men, do grow out of criminal offending as they mature," he said.

"When they do develop they see the sense of keeping out of trouble and keeping out of jail and why do we keep punishing them for the rest of their lives?"

Auckland's Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said he supported the move and said other employers agreed.

"There should be the opportunity for the clean slate," he said.

He said more serious crimes could require a longer period of time of being crime-free before a clean slate kicked in.

"There is probably a variable, you can start with seven years and then perhaps address it, depending on the crime, for a longer period."

Justice Minister Andrew Little was unavailable to comment, but in a statement, his office said he was aware of those views and called for a review of the Clean Slate Act.

The minister has had many letters from people about the stigma of having a conviction and how hard it was to get a job.

He wouldn't say whether this would be included in his review of the criminal justice system, which was currently underway, but said more would be known when the advisory group reported back early next year.

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