Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage.
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage yesterday insisted that the government was not going soft on crime as he introduced the Rehabilitation of Offenders Amendment Bill, which seeks to shorten the time for some convicts to have their police records wiped clean.
As it stands, a person’s criminal record can only be expunged upon seven years from the date of conviction if the offence is minor. Major offences call for 14 years to have passed before a record is expunged.
However, the proposed amendment, which will focus on young offenders 21-years-old or younger, seeks to shorten the time when the records can be considered clean to five and ten years respectively.
A five-member committee will be put in place to create certain criteria and measures to establish who will be considered to have their records expunged, Dr Nottage said.
Under the existing law, there are offences for which criminal records cannot be expunged.
“Under the existing legislation, manslaughter in respect of which five years or more have been imposed on the conviction; murder, possession of drugs with the intent to supply, treason, armed robbery and rape and unlawful carnal knowledge,” are the offences that, because of their nature, cannot be expunged from the criminal records of the convicted persons, Dr Nottage said.
Dr Nottage also said the government is considering the introduction of a parole system.
“I have been reluctant to bring this bill to Parliament,” Dr Nottage said, “because people will say we are going soft on crime.
“This is not to let them have an easy time (but) it is to prepare them for life after prison to give them an opportunity to be able to get a job and hopefully we would have been able to change their system of values.
“Almost in every facet of our society, one of the principal things for which potential employers ask is a police record. A police record normally has on it whatever is your criminal history. Typically when you have been convicted of crime and when you’ve been incarcerated… many jobs ask for a police certificate and if it has that you have been convicted of a crime or served time it is difficult in this town to get a job.
“Once you have a criminal record and people see you as a hardened criminal who (they believe) will do harm to them on their property and somebody who cannot be entrusted with anything of value (or) when people think of hardened criminals persons with criminal convictions they don’t generally receive any sympathy from the public.
“These are people with families and children to take care of, with mortgages to pay, but they have little or no income.”
Dr Nottage justified the government’s bid to have this bill passed, saying officials are committed to assisting convicts to stay on the straight and narrow path when they are released from prison.
Last night, Independent MP Dr Andre Rollins questioned the timing of the amendment, considering the country’s troubling crime problem. He said the legislation would make the government look as though it is lax on the issue.