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Clean slate for criminals who get up to four years in prison

OFFENDERS sentenced to up to four years in prison should be allowed a "clean slate" under proposed reforms to Scotland's rehabilitation laws.

Respondents to the Scottish Government's consultation favoured raising the threshold where criminals are considered capable of rehabilitation from 30 months currently to 48 months, bringing Scotland into line with changes planned for England and Wales.

It means anyone handed custodial sentences of up to four years would have their convictions expunged at a certain point after completing their sentence, as long as they did not reoffend. Recent cases which saw offenders jailed for four years include Andrew Duffy, who was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving after he struck and killed a pensioner in Greenock.

Susan Hamilton, from Edinburgh, was imprisoned for four years for poisoning her eight- year-old daughter with salt, causing brain damage, as was ex-policeman Khalid Anwar, who was convicted of rape and breach of the police over an attack on a woman he met on a dating site.

Other respondents to the consultation favoured axing a cut-off altogether and making all crimes capable of rehabilitation.

Most also backed prosecuting employers suspected of dis­criminating against job applicants on the grounds of spent convictions.

The Scottish Government launched its consultation on the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in August last year. It received feedback from eight individuals and 33 organisations, including public sector bodies, children's charities, and prisoners' groups.

An analysis of the responses found that most stakeholders feel the act "places too much emphasis on public safety and too little emphasis on rehabilitation".

The report states: "Several commented that, as sentence lengths have increased in the years since the 1974 Act was introduced, the length of sentence beyond which an offender will never become rehabilitated under the 1974 Act should also increase.

"More specifically, some felt 48 months should be the cut-off point whereas others felt all convictions should be included within the scope of the Act."

It added: "There was a general feeling, especially from offenders' organisations and individuals, that rehabilitation periods should be shorter to allow ex-offenders to access employment more easily."

At present convictions carrying a sentence of six months or less take seven years to lapse, while offenders imprisoned for more than six months but less than 30 are required to declare previous convictions for 10 years after completing their sentence. These periods are halved for offenders aged under 18 when convicted.

A hardline should also be taken against employers who flout the rules, said respondents.

"Most of those who replied said employers should be prevented from using spent convictions against an employee and many said it should be a criminal offence if an employer does not comply," stated the report, putting discrimination against ex-offenders on a footing with bias against disabled applicants or women of childbearing age.

But there was a feeling among many that certain crimes - sexual offences, homicide and other violent crimes - should "never be rehabilitated".

A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said: "It is crucial that victims, children and vulnerable adults are protected from harm as far as is practicable while ensuring that as much as possible is done to help offenders move away from their previous criminal activity."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "We are still considering the findings of these reports and will provide a full response in the summer that will allow us to develop a response which strikes the right balance between supporting the rehabilitation of offenders and protecting the public."

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