Letter: Offenders deserve chance of fresh start

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Sir: You report on the estimates by the National Association of Probation Officers of unemployment rates among offenders of 90 per cent or higher. In the same edition, you feature the case of a Liverpool councillor whose minor offences dating back to the early 1970s have been revealed by journalists ('Woman determined to be mayor despite prostitution cases', 10 August). This is despite the fact that the individual concerned is deemed by the law to be a 'rehabilitated person' (ie, these offences are spent and do not need to be disclosed to employers, colleagues or indeed the press).

Ignorance and prejudice play a major part in keeping offenders locked out of the labour market. A survey by Apex Trust in 1991 found that 40 per cent of employers in the private sector had not heard of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Only one in a hundred assessed the relevance of a candidate's criminal convictions when recruiting.

In contrast, 82 per cent who had knowingly employed ex-offenders had found them to be satisfactory employees.

It is to Liverpool City Council's credit that the leader has given his public support to the individual, as her past offences are irrelevant to her duties as a councillor or as prospective mayor of the city. Many ex-offenders are not so lucky.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which has been in force for 20 years, offers no protection or redress against irresponsible reporting in the media. Until the Act is overhauled so as to guarantee that spent offences cannot be revealed in this way, it will fail in its principal purpose of offering ex-offenders a chance to make a fresh start. In the meantime, for many it is impossible to break out of the cycle of unemployment and crime.

Yours faithfully,

ALAN TAYLOR

Apex Trust

London, E1

10 August

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