A decision and an approved bill favor criminals

The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo will not rule on a request by private investigators and others to halt the release of criminals before they have served their sentence.

The Ministerio de Justicia y Paz reported the decision that involved an appeal by the  Asociación Nacional de Investigadores en Criminalística.

Also Thursday lawmakers passed for the second and final time a proposed law that would keep secret an ex-convict’s records more quickly than the law now requires.

Despite the action, lawmakers in their afternoon session asked the central government to revise the policy that is releasing thousands of convicted criminals into what are called semi-institutional regimes, basically halfway houses.

The discussion centered on the rape of a new mother, 25, by a man who had been released under the policy.

The action by the private investigators challenged the actions by the Instituto Nacional de Criminología and asked that prison authorities be ordered to recapture those who had been let out early under the  policy.

The Ministerio de Justicia y Paz contains an agency that runs the prisons, and the release of criminals before they complete their sentence is a way to reduce prison overcrowding.

The Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo basically said it was not empowered to make such a decision because when prisoners are released is the sole jurisdiction of judges. An appeal is likely.

The legislative action to hide criminal records is designed to help convicts reenter society by not letting potential employers know that they have committed crimes. The judiciary maintains a list of convicts and their crimes. Under current law this information is available for 10 years.

Many employers ask job candidates to provide an hoja de deliquencia issued by the government. The official document shows any convictions. Under the proposed change in the law that needs only the signature of the president, those who are convicted and sentenced to a term of less than three years will not have a public criminal record.

If the individual serves a term of from three to five years, the record is wiped clean after he or she has been released for a year. Those released after serving from five to 10 years will have a clean record after three years, and those who served terms of 10 years or more will have their record cleansed after five years.

The exception are those who are charged with participating in organized crime, committed a sex crime against a minor, murdered, killed a wife or committed crimes against public entities, according to a summary of the bill.
They will have to wait 10 years to get a clean record.

Silvia Sánchez Venegas, a lawmaker for the Partido Liberación Nacional, said that many men and women learn professional or technical skills while in prisons but when they leave an institution they encounter a situation in which they are limited and excluded from jobs because of their criminal past. This is a barrier to a second opportunity, she said.

Hiding criminal records appears to be favored by international human rights treaties, according to lawmakers.

The bill makes no mention of private data bases, such as those maintained by credit agencies, which contain much of the same information.

In the discussion about freeing prisoners,  Gerardo Vargas, a lawmaker with the Partido  Unidad Social Cristiana, said that in the last 25 months, 5,995 convicts have gone on the streets due to a ruling by the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz.  He said that this computed to eight a day or one every three hours.

President Luis Gullermo Solís also came in for some criticism because when speaking elsewhere about the rape of the 25-year-old mother he said that one swallow does not a summer make, a common expression in Spanish and English. Some lawmakers said this was an unfortunate comparison.

Maureen Clarke, another Liberación lawmaker, said that the rapist was not a swallow but a predator.

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