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Opinion:The need for a Criminal Record Expungement law

2021-07-27  Staff Reporter

Opinion:The need for a Criminal Record Expungement law

As much as security screening should not be compromised, it is everyone’s wish to secure a job of their own choice in a democratic dispensation. In most countries, it is prudent that one has to be screened for previous convictions before they can secure employment in any institution. Proof of previous conviction has become a vital job requirement in job applications. Objectively, security checks assist employers from hiring individuals that will cost the company at the end of the day, either monetary or reputation wise. However, without due consideration, the notion of “no one is perfect” need to implode, particularly in contemplation of one’s tender age, where many individuals indulge in tempting acts, by will or strain, without a proper calculation of the future possible consequences of their actions. Certain crimes are trivial, others arise as a result of maldistribution of resources that cause individuals to succumb to criminality, and others arise as a result of social pressure from the poor communities many of us grow up from, yet the detrimental effects of all these criminal records to our future growth are not of any consideration. As such, those who lost their paths in the past continue to be judged as such, thus pressured to return to their old ways. 


Test of effectiveness    

One vital concern is the effectiveness of “clean criminal records” as an employment requirement. Using the Namibian Police as an example, they have continuously recruited individuals with a clean criminal record. Yet today, they are in the top five of highly corrupt public institutions. Also, complaints of their incompetency remain a crucial topic of the day. In as much as law enforcement or policing is one of the crucial careers that require a high degree of integrity and honesty, one can say these tenets cannot be found in the averred job requirement. On the way, many institutions, including the Namibian Police have failed to identify the experience, skills and knowledge that possible employees would bring to the organisation. The target is more on historical criminal records, a dismally failed objective. How long should our past determine our future remains a crucial concern, particularly when we see those who apparently conducted themselves well in the past becoming the wolves of today. 


Why forever?

Evidently, criminal records in Namibia stand for life. Section 37 of the Criminal Procedure Act, Act 51/1977 made provision for police officers to obtain fingerprints from those who enter the criminal justice system funnel. The records are kept at the Namibian Police Criminal Records Centre, as a computerised database. In as much as they are vital in proofing the previous convictions of an individual in future trials, these records stand to be used against individuals in obviating their future possibilities. This is attributed to the fact that currently, there is no legislation that prescribes the expungement of fingerprints in Namibia after 31 years of self-ruling. For clarity sake, the term expunge means to completely obliterate something. In this context, expungement entails the process by which a criminal record is destroyed or sealed from the state. Once a criminal record has been sealed or destroyed, it is no longer accessible to the public, including potential employers. Duane, Nancy and Lynch (2017) clearly stated that domestic legislations on the expungement of criminal records play a crucial role in reducing the number of employment opportunities for people who have engaged in criminality in the past. This is an abandoned duty of our legislators, who perhaps find no importance in legislating this very serious issue of national concern. Regulating the expungement of criminal records would mean affording individuals a second chance to purposively live their lives and reduce the high unemployment rate in our country. It is a test to the noble of duty of our criminal justice system in general and the Namibian Correctional Service in specific. Explicitly, section 3 (c) of the Namibian Correctional Service Act, Act 9 of 2012 provides that one of the functions of the Namibian Correctional Service is “as far as practicable, to apply such rehabilitation programmes and other meaningful and constructive activities to sentenced offenders that contribute to their rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community as law abiding citizens”. Sincere to this function is the creation of rehabilitative programmes that prepare offenders to be ready for society once they are released back into society. If indeed the correctional service is performing this duty, which includes offering vocational training to offenders, when then do we expect to see these offenders becoming successful people in the society if they are denied employment opportunities to showcase their skills, taking into consideration the fact that they are not given any capital to be self-employed individuals? How do we expect them to deal with all the pressure of unemployment and rejection that dwells with them once released from custody? What assurity are they given that they are welcomed as new people in society? Would this not be another reason for increased recidivism? However, worth stating is that the purpose of the correctional services programs are being defeated if the government is not coming up with a solution to tackle the issues of criminal record expungement. 


External jurisdictions

South Africa has adopted a legal framework that allows the criminal records of individuals to be thrown out of the database. This is acceptable in terms sections 271C and 271D of the South African Criminal Procedure Act, Act 51/1977. It allows one to apply for criminal record expungement after 10 years. Interestingly, there are exemptions for those that may find their names in the national register of sex offenders. These people are not eligible to apply for expungements.

On the same note, the Canadian government has what is called the Canadian pardon. In terms of this pardon, individuals who want to clear their criminal records have to apply for a record suspension. Once one has been granted a record suspension, it technically implies that they have a record but it will be sealed and it cannot be revealed except on the permission of the safety minister.


My plead

Given all the above, I am of the opinion that our government emulate what other countries are doing. This will help the criminal justice system to enhance its competency in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration. It will also afford those convicted of crimes and are undergoing rehabilitation programmes a reason to open up for change. Because currently, it does no effect for one to change their attitude and behaviour, while still held accountable for the past. Furthermore, the expungement of criminal records will have a positive impact on the job market, in that it will increase competition of knowledgeable and skilled individuals, creating a pool from which employers can choose. This will positively impact productivity and efficiency in many institutions. Also, expungement of criminal records will reduce unemployment. 

Overall, the expungement of criminal records have worked in diverse communities, thus it is a significant step to redeem our justice and economic systems. The roadway is to enact a law that allows people to apply for criminal records suspensions. This can be subject to classification of crimes as in the case of South Africa.


* Moses Leonard is an aspiring politician. Former police officer and unemployed youth. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in policing. The view expressed here are his own.

2021-07-27  Staff Reporter

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