Stopping criminals from reoffending is crucial for cutting crime and making our communities safer. The Conservative Government is failing badly on that score: rehabilitation is poor and reoffending rates are far too high.
We know that stable employment is a key factor that reduces the risk of reoffending, helping people to build lives free from crime. But the current rules around criminal records can negatively affect people's job prospects, as well as their ability to travel, adopt, access domestic violence shelters, and many other parts of civil life.
There are over 11 million people residing in the United Kingdom who have a criminal record. Currently, no criminal record information is deleted, including crimes committed by those under 18. Criminal record information remains on both the Disclosure and Barring Service system and the Police National Database.
A significant number of high-profile companies offer employment to large numbers of prisoners, with very successful results. However, many employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders. Some fear that doing so would damage the image of their business.
The Lammy Review in 2017 concluded "the records disclosure regime hampers people with convictions from starting lives" and recommended "a system which involves looking favourably on those who committed crimes as children or young adults, and can demonstrate that they have changed since their conviction".
The rules around criminal records need to be reformed, so that people do not need to declare old or minor convictions.
In new policy passed by members today, Liberal Democrats are calling for:
- an end to the blanket policy of retention of all criminal records.
- police not to retain any personal information or criminal record if the offender is given an absolute discharge by the court - meaning that no further action is taken, because either the offence was very minor, or the court considers that the experience has been enough of a deterrent.
- police to delete all criminal cautions, conditional discharges, and associated personal information after 6 years if the person does not reoffend in that time.
- the government to develop guidance on how long criminal records should be retained for sentenced crimes and cases where the person reoffends.
- criminal records to only be permanent in cases of serious crimes and matters of national security.
- judges to set how long a crime should stay on the offender's record at the point of sentencing.
- police to only hold records for any other dealings with the police if the police determine it is in the public interest.
A more flexible system will lead to more effective policing, by focusing on those who commit serious crimes and pose the greatest risk.
The police would still retain records of serious criminals and anyone who is identified as a threat to national security. They would also be able to keep the records of suspects where it is in the public interest.
Liberal Democrats understand that the key to building communities that are free from crime is to make sure that ex-offenders go on to lead lives free from crime. That means putting rehabilitation at the heart of our criminal justice system. This motion was debated by members at the Party's Spring Conference last weekend builds on our existing policies to do just that.