Calls for criminal record reform to give vulnerable Victorians a second chance
16 March 2021 at 5:16 pm
Victoria is the only state or territory in Australia that does not have a spent convictions scheme
A coalition of more than 50 health, legal, Indigenous, and youth advocacy groups is urging Victorian Parliament to pass legislation making it easier for people with minor historical offences to find work and housing.
The Smart Justice for Young People coalition has released a statement in support of the Spent Convictions Bill 2020, which would prevent eligible minor offences from showing up in a police check after 10 years, or five years for a juvenile offence.
This change – contingent on a person not re-offending during the period – is designed to stop discrimination against people with old criminal records when they apply for housing, employment or volunteer roles.
When the bill was introduced last October, then-Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the reform would bring Victoria in line with other states and territories, which all have legislated spent convictions schemes in place.
“People who have proven they are willing and able to change and make a positive contribution to society should be given every chance to do so,” Hennessy said.
“We consulted widely with communities and stakeholders to make sure the scheme will balance the need to deliver reform that is fair and just, while keeping Victorians safe.”
Julie Edwards, CEO of Jesuit Social Services, a member of the Smart Justice for Young People coalition, told Pro Bono News that the people with criminal records they worked with faced many barriers to reintegrating with society.
“These people really want to be included, they want to be restored to the community and make a contribution, but are often kept on the margins,” Edwards said.
“And what we’re wanting to do is to ensure that [those eligible for the scheme] have that barrier taken away so that they can make a new start on their lives.”
Smart Justice for Young People has said the bill would be especially impactful for vulnerable groups in society, such as those with a history of trauma or abuse, people experiencing mental health issues, and children who have been in out-of-home care.
Edwards said communities disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system – such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – would also benefit.
She added that authorities had a responsibility to help those with prior convictions to get back on their feet.
“If we want to turn people’s lives around and help keep the community safer we need to do all we can to put them on a better pathway,” she said.
“And particularly for children and young people, to have them marked by this for their whole lives is really setting them up for exclusion and failure.”
While the scheme applies only to minor offences for those over 15, it would remove all offences committed by someone under 15.
This led shadow attorney-general Edward O’Donohue to raise concerns last month that this would clear the record for “heinous crimes such as rape, murder and terrorism”.
But Edwards said that the data showed it was “very rare” that a child under 15 committed a crime of that nature.
“And there is a period of five years with no serious reoffending that is in place for the scheme,” she said.
“So if someone had committed something that serious, the next five years will be the testing period to make sure they don’t offend again.”
Edwards also noted that the provision to “spend” convictions did not get rid of them, it simply meant they were not disclosed for certain purposes.
“The police and courts will continue to have full access to criminal histories and records and these will be released when required to certain employers and third parties to make necessary risk assessments,” she said.
“So we feel the necessary safeguards are in place.”
The bill is currently being debated in the upper house.