Criminals who have served their time and spent a specific period following their release from prison crime-free will have previous convictions wiped from their permanent record, under legislation to be considered by lawmakers this month.

The Criminal Records (Spent Convictions) Bill, 2016, which would replace the Cayman Islands offender rehabilitation laws, is largely aimed at putting criminals back to work once the legal system has deemed them to have paid their debt to society.

“[This bill] will enhance the employment prospects of ex-offenders,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said. “It will assist in removing travel restrictions as well as help to reduce the barriers to successful reintegration into the community.”

The issue has been a concern of lawmakers for years, particularly when criminal offenses involve what are considered “lesser” crimes: drug use, petty theft and the like. Former Bodden Town MLA Dwayne Seymour proposed a similar change to what government is considering now during a 2012 meeting of the Legislative Assembly.

“Criminal records often prevent them from finding work, particularly as more people vie for a smaller pool of positions,” Mr. Seymour told the Legislative Assembly in November 2012 as he introduced a private members’ motion that sought to change the Rehabilitation of Offenders Law.

Mr. Seymour said he was seeking legislation in the Cayman Islands similar to that proposed in 2009 by U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel. Mr. Rangel’s Second Chance for Offenders Act permits the expunging (or clearing) of records for individuals convicted of a first nonviolent offense as long as they fulfil all requirements of the sentence set by a court, remain free from dependency or abuse of alcohol and controlled substances for a minimum of one year, obtain a high school diploma or equivalent and complete at least one year of community service.

Mr. Seymour proposed that some or all of those measures could form any part of a bill Cayman lawmakers might enact.

“It’s not just a situation where we’re saying ‘you made a mistake, no problem. We will expunge this, go make another mistake,’” Mr. Seymour said. “Sometimes offenses are left on record for five years, seven years, depending on what it is. We don’t want a person to wait for five years or seven years to find employment again. We’re talking about offenses that you don’t even go to prison for.”

The bill now before the assembly creates a new body called an Expungement Board to review and determine a released offender’s application to have their criminal record cleared.

Criminal convictions cannot be removed from an individual’s record if they are sentenced to life imprisonment, or a if a conviction results in a five-year prison sentence, except when the person convicted is a minor, and offenses committed against corporations.

Neither does the proposal allow for unlimited expungements. In most cases, only two expungements of criminal records will be permitted.

The ability to have convictions removed from one’s record will also be available to offenders convicted before the enactment of the new law, if it is approved by the Legislative Assembly.

The “crime-free period” during which a previously convicted person must remain free of any new convictions or arrest for other offenses is not strictly defined in the law, but will be decided on a case-by-case basis depending on the specific offense.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now