Rehabilitation of Offenders Law under review
Reformed criminals could have convictions stricken from the record under proposed legislation aimed at improving job prospects for ex-offenders.
Criminal convictions dating back several decades are still proving a barrier to employment and travel for some Caymanians.
Under current Cayman Islands law, job applicants can be asked to declare their entire criminal record to prospective employers. Ex-offenders are also required to declare convictions on some travel visa applications.
Proposed amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Law, under review by the Ministry of Home Affairs, would give anyone convicted of a serious offense the right to apply to have that conviction quashed if they had not re-offended within 10 years of their release.
Kathryn Dinspel-Powell, deputy chief officer in the Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of the ministry, said the current law hampers the life prospects of ex-offenders, some of whom were still paying for mistakes made in their youth many years later.
There are 10,067 people in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service database with a criminal conviction or serious traffic conviction, according to a recent Freedom of Information request.
The database dates to the early 1990s, according to Police Superintendent Adrian Seales, and thus would include people who have since died or left the island.
Even with that caveat, the figure suggests a sizable percentage of Cayman’s population has a conviction of some kind.
Under current law, anyone convicted of an offense carrying a sentence of more than 30 months in prison is considered ineligible for rehabilitation, meaning the sentence will show up on criminal record checks for the rest of their lives.
The proposed changes would raise the threshold for a serious offense to 36 months, and would include a process for offenders to apply to a board of criminal justice experts to have the conviction removed from the record after 10 years.
Ms. Dinspel-Powell said, “This is preventing people from getting work opportunities, from being able to travel, and that can impact their prospects and quality of life.
“We can’t pay lip service to rehabilitation if we don’t recognize that people are being rehabilitated and they are being treated as though they committed the offense yesterday.”
Lesser sentences of six to 30 months are currently considered “spent convictions,” meaning they do not show up on criminal record checks after 10 years. Convictions of less than six months are considered spent after seven years. Under the proposed changes, those time periods would be reduced to seven and five years, respectively.
Dianne Conolly, training and development manager at the National Workforce Development Agency, said criminal convictions present a barrier to employment for many of the agency’s clients.
“In such a small community as Cayman, having a criminal conviction can mean that the people with a record are marginalized, effectively reducing employment opportunities,” she said.
“This marginalization is sometimes paired with the lack of skills needed to find employment and very few companies willing to provide employment opportunities to those with criminal convictions.”
Ms. Conolly said the NWDA could work with ex-offenders to improve their skills and training and engage with the business community to encourage them to hire former prisoners.
She said the agency is also working with the prison service to offer a City and Guilds Employability Skills program in the prisons.
But she said offenders need to be committed to making the choice to live a life free of crime in order to have realistic long-term employment prospects.
Ms. Dinspel-Powell said the proposed changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Law, which could go to the Legislative Assembly later this year, were designed to help offenders who had shown they were truly reformed. She said the ministry is working with the NWDA and the prison service to improve interventions in prison to ensure that more offenders are given the chance to reform.
“We have a major commitment to reducing crime and recidivism,” she said. “This is one of the things we are working on.
“We have proven that locking people up and throwing away the key doesn’t work. If we expect them to change, we need to intervene and help them to develop coping strategies and life skills.”