An old criminal conviction will no longer stand in the way of some people getting jobs and finding stability after contact with the criminal justice system, thanks to a spent convictions bill that passed both houses of parliament this week. 

Having a job is one of the most important factors influencing whether a person will successfully integrate into their community after prison,” said VACRO CEO Marius Smith.  

“This new law will mean people who have worked hard to be active, involved members of their communities will no longer be haunted by the ghost of a bad decision made a decade ago.”  

The state government’s Spent Convictions Bill 2020 passed the Legislative Council today after passing through the Legislative Assembly on 19 February. 

The scheme strikes convictions for eligible minor offences off a person’s record after 10 years, or five years for a juvenile conviction, if the person doesn’t reoffend during that period.  

“Without this bill, if someone had a 10-year-old conviction for drug possession and all the requisite skills and experience, you could still refuse to hire them for a retail job,” said Mr Smith. 

This isn’t just a hypothetical. We know that even high-functioning people who leave prison, who get the relevant support structures in place, who might even have university degrees and extensive work histories, struggle to find work where the dreaded criminal background check is required – they know the outcome in advance.” 

Victoria is the last Australian jurisdiction to legislate a spent convictions scheme – the bill passing 34 years after Queensland first legislated a similar scheme. Victorian activists have lobbied for the scheme for decades. 

Mr Smith welcomed the bill’s passing, and acknowledged the hard work of a coalition of organisations that had spearheaded the push for the legislation. However, he said there was more to be done to support thousands of people with relatively recent convictions, or more serious convictions.

"For that reason it remains an urgent priority to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to outlaw discrimination on the basis of an irrelevant criminal conviction. 

The spent convictions bill amends the Equal Opportunity Act to outlaw discrimination on the basis of a spent conviction, but the act still permits employers to discriminate based on a criminal conviction that hasn’t been spent.  

Mr Smith said that discrimination further compounded the disadvantage faced by people with criminal convictions, particularly people who haven’t yet met the 10-year expiration date for a conviction to be spent.  

“Nearly 800 people leave a Victorian prison every month with no job lined up, and about 80 percent of our participants face homelessness on release,” he said. 

The research and our experience tells us that many prison leavers will be reliable and dedicated workers. They're often fit and healthy, and they’re used to routine and structure."

Mr Smith said being unemployed for a year nearly halves a person’s chances of ever working again, which illustrated the urgency of connecting people with employment options immediately after imprisonment.

"A job helps them afford a place to live, lets them provide for their children, and gives them the stability they need to deal with other issues they might face, including mental health conditions, addiction, and a lack of community connection."

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