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May 2, 2016

Eternal punishment- the consequences of being caught twice for shop-lifting aged 10

“I have two convictions. Both happened 38-years ago when I was a juvenile. The first was for petty theft, a silly prank with two mates, for which I got a conditional discharge. The second was for ABH: I got into a scrape, pushed someone to the ground and was fined £10. Since then I’ve become a teacher. I was a Deputy Head for some 20 years, but now I’ve started supply teaching I have to explain these as if I am now a criminal.”

For how long should we have to disclose crimes committed as children? In this country you can be haunted by minor crimes, all your life.  A child, who is convicted of shop-lifting twice, has to disclose these crimes in an enhanced criminal records check until they die.  Our criminal records regime is one the biggest barriers to rehabilitation – it impedes people’s ability to get jobs, go to college and travel. And it perpetuates the stigma all offenders attract.

People think if they do their time, they will be able to move on and put their past mistakes behind them. But it is not like that.  It is doubly unfair that crimes committed as children should have to be disclosed for so long.  Children and teenagers are immature and many do stupid things.  But they are still developing, so they have ample time and ability to make amends, and move on.   Other countries treat childhood crimes very differently to adult crimes. A new report shows that England and Wales has one of the most punitive childhood criminal records schemes in the western world.  In Ohio, USA, records of all crimes tried in the juvenile court are not classified as criminal records, and children who have been convicted are protected in law from having to declare their record.

Here, a DBS check will reveal all minor crimes to employers, if someone has two convictions or cautions or if the one conviction they have is for an “exempt” offence – some assault offences, or drug supply, have to be disclosed for ever.  Because of this, 2,500 childhood convictions for theft of a bicycle were disclosed to employers 2013-2015. What is the justification for punishing people for ever for mistakes, even serious mistakes, made as children?  There is no evidence that someone who committed two minor crimes aged ten is going to be a worse teacher aged 50.  Like so much law there is no real evidence base. It’s there because it is. Not because we need such draconian restrictions.

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice is calling for reform of the childhood criminal records regime.