In some distant dystopian future are there going to be more criminals in Scotland than non-criminals?
ARE we Scots becoming a nation of criminals? It looks like that when you consider the latest Government consultation paper. It baldly states more than one-third of Scottish males over the age of 18 have at least one criminal conviction.
One in three? My goodness. And for reasons that are not obvious this doesn’t include those aged 16 to 18, some of whom amass public disorder convictions at a high rate. Nor does it say whether those convictions include minor road traffic offences. Or break them down by age group. And of course what makes a person a criminal? A single minor criminal conviction? Surely not? But how does even that affect employability?
The paper certainly talks in almost the same breath about allowing people to move away from their “criminal past”. Whatever the answer to those questions is; we should probably be alarmed. Not least because all of this apparently costs £3 billion a year in economic and social costs. In some distant dystopian future are there going to be more criminals in Scotland than non-criminals? And are the non-criminals all going to be employed in the justice industry?
Okay, seriously, and there is a very serious side to all this, we are living through an information revolution. Never has so much information about so many people been available to so many people. Or to put it another way never has it been so hard to shake off your past. Especially when applying for a job – often for very good reasons.
But if say, when you were aged 11, you were cautioned by the police over the theft of two bicycles and when you were 19 you applied to a college for a sports course. Should you be turned down because the police caution turned up on your disclosure?
That’s a real case, though extreme, discussed by the UK Supreme Court and partially resulting in a change in the law on rehabilitation down south. The consultation is about following suit here.
Many, but certainly not all, convicted people should be rehabilitated says the law and after a certain period of time no longer have to declare their convictions.
The question: is after how long? There’s currently a sliding scale which starts with low rehabilitation periods for those on police and fiscal warnings, goes on to five years for those who have been fined and ends with those who have been sentenced to more than 30 months in prison, who can never hide their conviction.
The proposed changes are too detailed to list here but they are set against a background of what is called “sentence inflation”.
In short, the paper shows average prison sentences have more than doubled since the 1970s when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was passed. Surprisingly perhaps, what the paper doesn’t consider is what effect age has on behaviour.
Based on my completely unscientific experience as a defence lawyer nothing turns a wild young man with public order convictions into a decent law abiding citizen more effectively than a job and a partner and maybe hitting the early twenties. One of these things is eight times harder to get if they have to a custody conviction.
‘‘ Nothing turns a wild young man with convictions into a decent law abiding citizen more effectively than a job and a partner