Law provides for clean slate for rehabilitated prison inmates

Stabroek News
March 15, 2007

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Prisoners who have been rehabilitated and are about to re-enter society should not be labelled ex-cons or criminals, and they are also under no obligation to disclose their past to potential employers.

This is according to the local Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The Act was referred to about a week ago at a prison officers' seminar, where former High Court judge Winston Moore detailed certain rights afforded to local rehabilitated prisoners as set out in the legislation.

The bill, which was passed in 1988 and took effect one year later, makes provision for a rehabilitated prisoner to be treated as though s/he were never convicted at all.

Its main effect is to extend a powerful incentive for persons who have been convicted of offences to live a crime free life thereafter. The Act does this by providing that, after a certain time has elapsed from the date of conviction, called the rehabilitation period, the conviction is to be regarded as spent, and the person is to be regarded as a rehabilitated person.

Currently the 2006-2007 rehabilitation programme which is geared towards equipping male and female inmates with basic literacy, numeracy and technology skills among other things is ongoing in prisons across the country. Today the British High Commission will officially sign a project document and hand over a cheque to the Director of Prisons for another rehabilitation project to be introduced into prisons.

In his presentation at the seminar, Justice Moore pointed to Section 8 of the Act, which says that a person who has become rehabilitated for the purposes of the Act in respect of a conviction shall be treated for all purposes in law as a person who has not committed or has not been charged with, prosecuted for, convicted of or sentenced for the offence or offences which were the subject of the conviction.

Another part of that particular section noted that no evidence is admissible in any proceedings before a judicial authority exercising jurisdiction or functions in Guyana to prove a spent conviction.

Justice Moore said the law gives rehabilitated prisoners the right not to answer any question relating to their past which cannot be answered without acknowledging or referring to a spent conviction or any circumstances surrounding it. However, he said the Act allows for occasions when a spent conviction may be disclosed and the subject minister (of Home Affairs) empowered under sections 8 and 11 can make the order to acquire such information from an official record. But as far as he is aware no such order has ever been made in the country by the subject minister.

Though there are some professions where disclosure of convictions spent or unspent must be made, the Act contains provisions affecting employment and the law relating to libel and slander and makes the improper disclosure of information on a spent conviction a criminal offence.

Section 8 (3) says that subject to certain exceptions, a spent conviction or any circumstances ancillary, or any failure to disclose a spent conviction is not proper ground for dismissing or excluding a person from any office, profession, occupation or employment or for prejudicing him in any way.

While Section 11 of the local Act says a person who has custody of or access to official records, who makes disclosure, otherwise than in the course of his official duties, of a spent conviction, is guilty of a criminal offence punishable by fine ($5,000) and in more serious cases a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment of six months.

Justice Moore said he did not know what was applied in the instance of persons requiring "police clearances" for immigration and other purposes and he refrained from commenting on this.

He expressed hope that his presentation would kindle the interest of all concerned to appreciate the provisions of the local Act and to apply them accordingly. He said it appeared as though the legislation had remained buried in the statute books as few persons appear to be aware of its existence and or significance.