The Price of a Criminal Record

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In a small conference room on the 11th floor at the Wits Journalism Department, Thuba Sithole is mentally re-visiting the days he spent in Leeuwkop Prison. You can see from his pensive face that this interview isn’t easy for him. He takes a deep breath, as he struggles to find a reason as to why he spent seven years and three months behind bars for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Regardless of why, he now has a criminal record that prevents him from finding work, writes JANESSA ANDIORIO.

“There are so many opportunities which, I cannot, like, find myself trying to pursue them”, said Sithole.

Being unemployed is hard, but add a criminal record into the mix ‘wrongfully convicted or not’ makes finding a job close to impossible, said Alida Boshoff, the area manager of Gauteng for the South African National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders. The organisation assists people with the removal of their criminal records after ten years and they help reintegrate them into the workforce.

“I think the companies that people are applying for jobs at the moment, are asking whether the person has got a criminal record or not and if the person has a criminal record they do not want to employ [them]”, said Boshoff, explaining that high unemployment rates are making a difficult situation worse.

In South Africa, the unemployment rate as of July 2018 is 27.2 percent according to data from Trading Economics. That’s around 15.6 million people, with and without criminal records, who are struggling to find work, including Thuba Sithole.

“I’m not living a normal life as I used to, you understand? So it’s very difficult”, said Sithole.

On 31 August 2007 Sithole was stopped by police on his way home from his former job at the Pick ‘n Pay in Randburg, Johannesburg. The police accused him of committing an armed robbery near Gemsbok Road in Robin Hills. Sithole got off of work at 7.06 pm. The crime happened around 7.15 pm. But, it takes about 30 minutes to walk from that Pick ‘n Pay to the scene of the crime.

Despite the illogical timeline of events, two witnesses testified in court that Sithole had committed the crime. Later, both of them admitted to the Wits Justice Project that they weren’t 100 percent sure Sithole had actually committed the crime when they testified. Those testimonies, however, resulted in Sithole’s criminal record.

“People they have that mentality of saying, they see a cop arresting you – they don’t even want to ask what happened”, said Sithole. “They think you are guilty”. That same mentality applies to the way businesses see job applicants with criminal records.

“It’s very difficult to trust someone who has proven themselves guilty in the eyes of the law to take care of our customers”, said Leon Pretorius, owner of The Table Melville.

The restaurant has a policy stating they do not hire people with criminal records because the risks are too high to take that leap of faith, said Pretorius.

When businesses see a criminal record, trust is replaced with hesitation and doubt, which is why Boshoff said there are two changes that need to happen to give everyone ‘ with, without, or with a wrongful criminal record – a fair chance.

“The one is to actually sensitise companies about integration of offenders but on the other hand we also have a high unemployment rate”, said Boshoff.

By sensitising, or taking a closer look at an individual’s criminal record, job searching would become a leveled playing field. Because, as Boshoff mentioned, if the companies took the time to interview the person and examine the crime that was committed, they might be able to see if the person has changed.

It’s been 11 years since Sithole acquired a criminal record. His criminal record stands in his way of financial stability.

“I wish it can be removed”, said Sithole. “It would be easy to apply for jobs that I’m not allowed to as it stands [now]”.

Janessa Andiorio is a journalist with the Wits Justice Project.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

3 COMMENTS

  1. Brava! A timely article on such a sensitive topic which reveals the complexities surrounding the criminal system and its impact upon individuals when the system lacks safeguards to preserve the greater interests of the individual impacted by the outcome of a system gone wrong. Why has it taken over ten (10) years to correct this wrong? As quickly as it took the system to arrest, charge and convict this man on just scant evidence, it should be just as expeditious in turning around a court order lifting the stain off his record. Justice should be paramount in this case with an eagle eye toward restoring this man’s good name and economic future.

  2. I am sitting in an almost similar position. About 5 years ago I was found guilty of rape(having sex with a minor who at the time lied about her age). I was drinking at the time and we were all having fun and she and her friends joined us but they were under the influence already. Long story short I was a single man and I didn’t think that she will be under age because she was ,big and looked very mature for her age and also told me us that she was old enough to be having a drink and having sex. I felt so ashamed after I found out that she was under age and on top of that her mother found out and made a case against me. Despite having a witness nothing I said or done could make up for what i did. I most definitely did not force her into having sex with me and therefore the lawyers i had told me the best way to beat jail is by pleading guilty and I was also scared to go to jail. Until today i regret pleading guilty because now i can’t be permanently employed because of the guilty verdict and my criminal record. I am very dedicated to my work and love what I do, have 2 beautiful kids a boy and a girl and one on the way, married to a beautiful women who believes in me no matter what and I am a born again Christian. I believe that God will make a way for me because He already made so many changes in my life and opened so many doors for me and my family. I won’t give up on becoming permanent at the company because I know that God opened this door for me and that He will make a way where there seems to be no way. If anyone can be of assistance by pointing me in the right direction I will appreciate it.

  3. So since well this video was posted here, does that person know that he has been posted on Internet? I’m sure if he wasn’t helped with anything he is struggling right now. Actually this video shouldn’t be on the net. Can someone please remove it because it is not help in him with anything

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