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By Tim Montgomerie
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Regular readers of ConservativeHome will know that I'm not the biggest fan of Ken Clarke. I've agreed with much of the centre right press when they've attacked his weak approach to prisons and sentencing. I am, however, much more sympathetic to the Justice Secretary's latest proposals which would allow ex-offenders to have their records "wiped clean" more quickly than at present.

Predictably, The Sun calls the measure "soft" but Lord McNally, Justice Minister, explains the reforms in the FT (£):

“First and foremost, criminals must be suitably punished for their crimes. But it is no good for anyone if they go to jail and come out and then can’t get an honest job and so turn back to crime again. That is why we are bringing forward reforms which will give offenders who have served their sentence a fair chance of getting back on the straight and narrow, while ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the public."

That last sentence is key – certain offences are of such a kind and so serious that employers and communities must always be aware of a person's history. Child sex offences, for example, spring to mind. Society must have an interest, however, in the re-integration of ex-offenders back into society. If people can't get a job because of past misdeeds hanging over them, we cannot be surprised at Britain's awful reoffending patterns.


Green DavidDavid Green of Civitas tells the Daily Mail why he opposes any change:

"There are some employers who are willing to give people a second chance and that’s a good thing. But it’s better if they know they have a doubtful history. By spending convictions rapidly you are deceiving people. These days no one gets put in prison unless they have done something pretty bad. I think this is sending the wrong message."

I have a lot of sympathy with David Green but there are risks both ways. There is a risk that an employer is robbed by an ex-offender who doesn't have to declare his history but I think there's a greater risk that we are writing off too many ex-offenders from restarting their lives. Once someone has served their time I think Ken Clarke and Lord McNally are right to conclude that the second risk is the greater one. Forgiveness is always a risky thing but it can also be liberating for society and for the individuals involved.

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