Barry Soper: Forgiveness needed for Clean Slate review

Image / iStock
Image / iStock

The argument's a pretty straight forward one, you either agree with rehabilitation or you don't.

It comes down to the number of years that have to pass by before your criminal slate's wiped clean, and that's not for every offence. Many of course will always remain on your rap sheet. But is it fair to hold someone accountable for the rest of their lives for something stupid they did when they were a callow youth?

The debate on reviewing the Clean Slate Act, which came into affect a dozen years ago - aimed at wiping the slate clean for minor offences after seven years of going clean, was spurred by Auckland bloke Eric Knight, who served a year behind bars as an 18-year-old after a couple of burglaries. That was 34 years ago.

He's since married and has never committed another crime, saying he's a totally different person and has proven a leopard can change his spots. Knight can't get a job though because he reckons the law presumes once a criminal always a criminal considering he's got to declare his past.

There are plenty of similar examples, like the 59-year-old who sold dope to an undercover cop as a 23-year-old and did his time. He went on to become an employer but decided he wanted to help out kids who find themselves on the wrong side of the tracks as well and got a social practice degree just over a decade ago. He's applied for dozens of jobs but hasn't had a reply. He probably rightly assumes it's because of his past that he's required to declare.

Think about the almost 900 consenting men who were convicted of homosexual-related offences in the six years before it was legalised 30 years ago. In the eyes of the law they're still criminals, even though females who fancied each other at the time never faced the long arm of the law.

As the law stands to be absolved of sin a person must remained out of trouble for seven years and to never have been sentenced to jail or corrective training. There are other obvious offences, like sexual offences against children that'll always remain a stain on someone's character, and rightly so.

Prissy Peter Dunne's now leading the political charge for change, saying a minor custodial sentence should be expunged if an offender's been clean for a decade and the same should apply to drink driving convictions - providing the original offence didn't injure anyone else.

He's right, it's time we showed some forgiveness and allowed people to get on with their lives rather than demanding they forever be reminded of their past.

Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's political editor.

READ MORE: Larry Williams: Peter Dunne's flawed 'clean slate' proposal


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