Home > Research papers on spent convictions.

Ireland. Department of Justice and Equality, Research and Data Analytics Unit. Swirak, Katharina and Forde, Louise (2020) Research papers on spent convictions. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality.

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P.26 In the Irish context, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, introduced for the first time a comprehensive legislative framework for regulating spent convictions. At the time, the introduction of the Act represented a significant milestone, particularly given that Ireland was the last EU member state to legislate in this area. However, despite its short life time, the Act has been repeatedly criticised for not being far reaching enough to achieve effective rehabilitation for justice involved persons. The issues raised, related amongst others to the limits on the number of convictions eligible to be spent, the stringent limits on types of and lengths of sentences eligible to be spent (particularly also for minor drug related offences), the lack of attention paid to the principle of proportionality between the length of a sentence and the length of the rehabilitative period before the conviction becomes spent and the lack of consideration for young adults. 

P.45 3.7 Spent convictions, reintegration and drug offences

The provision of more generous access to spent convictions for minor drug offences, as proposed in substantive amendment f., appears to be in line with the ‘quiet revolution’ towards public health led rather than criminal justice led responses to drug related crimes and harms, particularly in relation to simple possession offences. An increasing number of jurisdictions have chosen to move towards decriminalisation and in some instances even legalisation of minor drug offences. These moves are predicated on a rich body of evidence that has documented the vicious cycle between criminalisation, incarceration and drug use and better outcomes through health led approaches for individuals and communities affected by drug use. 

Globally, as well as in Ireland, poverty and problematic drug use are closely related. In Ireland, 66% of people receiving treatment for opiate use in Ireland were unemployed and 10% were homeless. Recent Irish research has documented amongst other findings how problematic drug use is associated with the experience of deep poverty, and the feeling of not having a stake in society, particularly also lacking employment. Persons with problematic drug use habits, usually face additional barriers on their journeys to social reintegration, particularly when looking for employment. They are faced with the double stigma of a criminal conviction on top of the label of ‘drug user’. This is experienced in addition to difficulties along non-linear drug rehabilitation journeys. The importance of employment as a factor for rehabilitation and social reintegration has been highlighted by numerous pieces of research. Some studies have shown through randomised control trials, how employment has a positive effect on recovery from drug use. Specifically in relation to drug courts, research in some jurisdictions, including Canada and the United States points to increased chances of employment for those attending drug courts, indicating positive relationship between employment and ceasing of problematic drug use. In the European context, lack of similar available research has been highlighted. Equally, the limited availability of evidence as to the effects of the regulation of criminal records specifically for drug users’ access to employment, has been noted.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Report, Review
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
16 October 2020
54 p.
Department of Justice and Equality
Corporate Creators
Ireland. Department of Justice and Equality, Research and Data Analytics Unit
Place of Publication
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