Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Alcohol and drug counselling boss says Clean Slate Act is too punitive

Ministry of Justice data showed 220,598 people had been eligible to have convictions concealed since the act was introduced in 2004. Photo / File
Ministry of Justice data showed 220,598 people had been eligible to have convictions concealed since the act was introduced in 2004. Photo / File

An alcohol and drug counselling boss says the Clean Slate Act is too punitive and some offenders give up seeking work though their convictions may not even be relevant to jobs they could fill.

Clinical director of Alcohol & Drug Assessment & Counselling (ADAC) Roger Brooking said his experience was the Clean Slate Act allowed prospective employers to pry too much into the backgrounds of job seekers.

Ministry of Justice data showed 220,598 people had been eligible to have convictions concealed since the act was introduced in 2004.

The Clean Slate Act was designed to allow people with less serious convictions to put their pasts behind them if they had been conviction-free for at least seven years, had not been sentenced to imprisonment and met other criteria. The act applies to employment and any other situations where an individual is asked about their criminal record.

Mr Brooking, who has been working with offenders in the Wellington area for 15 years, said most employers asked applicants whether they had a criminal conviction.

If the applicant lied and the employer found out, their chances of getting the job would be reduced.

"The legislation doesn't affect what questions employers are entitled to ask," said Mr Brooking.

Under the Clean Slate Act, it is an offence to require or request that somebody discloses concealed convictions.

Mr Brooking thought most people were honest about past offending and it seriously jeopardised their chances of getting employment.

"I meet so many people who end up in the justice system who have completely given up on any possibility of getting a job because of this problem," he said. "I would actually put this in the context of a human rights issue, that employers have no right to ask this question, except in certain cases."

It was "absolutely essential" that employers checked certain kinds of offending, said Mr Brooking.

He said he wouldn't want to see a school employ a teacher with convictions related to interfering with children.

"I think that's a totally valid thing that a school should be able to check out."

However, a drink driving conviction wasn't particularly relevant to being a teacher.

He suggested introducing legislation which compelled employers to only ask questions about relevant offending, however acknowledged defining relevant offending would be complicated.

Mr Brooking thought it was "grossly unfair and discriminatory" that the act didn't apply to anyone who had been indefinitely disqualified from driving even though they may have no other convictions.

The act also meant those sentenced to even a short custodial sentence had little hope of finding a job.

"It would be fair to say that the Clean Slate Act as it currently operates potentially breaches the human rights of anyone who has ever been sent to prison or disqualified indefinitely.

"There is a huge number of people affected by this and not being able to get a job is one of the main contributing factors in New Zealand's high recidivism rates."

Mr Brooking said he understood some companies in Australia that had contracts with the government were required by law to employ a certain number of ex-prisoners.

He said something similar needed to happen in New Zealand.

Former offender Neil Clarke also believes the Clean Slate Act needs to be reviewed.

Mr Clarke said he'd applied for hundreds of jobs and was always refused.

He said he'd never qualify to have his convictions concealed because he'd been indefinitely disqualified from driving.

He also has convictions for disorderly behaviour, assault on police and trespass.

His convictions were about 10 years old, he said.

Mr Clarke's convictions had also prevented him getting New Zealand citizenship, despite having come to the country from Scotland at four years old. This also affected his ability to find work.

Mr Clarke said employers shouldn't be allowed to do criminal record checks. Criminal checks were essential for certain offences and industries but the Ministry of Justice should carry them out.

He said an indefinite driving disqualification shouldn't prevent someone being eligible to have their records concealed. He also thought offenders should be eligible to have their convictions concealed after two or three years rather than seven.

Mr Clarke said rehabilitation was the only way to make people better and employment was part of this as it gave people self-worth.

"I don't need a hand out, I need a hand up, you know, to get functional and motivated and all that sort of stuff."


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