Cooling Period: Unwanted hassle for those seeking redemption

People who served jail term are all up against the probation period before obtaining their security clearance certificate

By Tashi Namgyal

Thimphu

Ex-convicts are finding it difficult to sustain their lives and livelihoods after serving their punishment (jail) time. It happens because they will not be entitled to obtain their No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the police until their cooling period ends.

People convicted of crimes get out after serving their prison term and want to change for better by engaging themselves into normal and mundane jobs or businesses. However, their road ends at the doorstep of the NOC.

β€œWithout NOC, we cannot do anything official and in consonance with the law,” 36-year-old Sonam Chophel (name changed) opined. He was once convicted of possession of illegal narcotic substances and served his prison term. After getting out of jail, he wanted to start a small business. However, his dream remained far-fetched without NOC.

Likewise, Tshering Samdrup (name changed) was convicted in a drug case and imprisoned for 1 year. After getting out, he wanted to drive a taxi as a means of livelihood but again, he could not process his NOC.

In a similar fashion, Karma Dorji (name changed), who served a prison term of 5 years in a drug case said that people psychologically get numb and dull by the time they come out.

β€œGetting out after 5 years, we are completely lost, not knowing what to do,” he said. β€œEven if some ideas strike us, the NOC serves as a hurdle and we end up doing things which do not need NOC, basically illegal things.”

β€œDirectly or indirectly, the law itself pushes us into doing illegal things,” he said.

Most ex-convicts said that the prison term and monetary compensation are more than enough as their punishment. β€œWhy block our NOC?” they question.

According to them, convicts who have contacts with influential people can get through the mess easily. β€œWhat about people like us who don’t have anyone to turn to for help?” Sonam Chophel asks.

He was given a prison term of six months. However, he spent three months in jail and paid compensation in lieu of the remaining three months. β€œThis monetary compensation is more than enough to teach ourselves a lesson, why hold our NOC,” he said.

However, some cases take so long to be prosecuted, that the convicts hastily process their NOCs and fly out of the country before the court renders its judgment and blocks their NOCs.

β€œI was arrested for a drug case and the case was forwarded to the court by the police. However, before the trials began, I processed my NOC and flew here,” 37-year-old Pema Gyeltshen (name changed), a Bhutanese residing in Australia said.

β€œHad I waited for the court’s judgment, I would have been nowhere and would have ended up doing things which do not click along with the laws,” he added.

Parents and relatives of ex-convicts Bhutan TODAY talked to also shared similar concerns.

β€œWe obviously want good things for our children. They make mistakes, get into lock-ups and serve their prison term, which I think is more than enough punishment for the crimes they committed,” a father of an ex-convict said.

They shared that the time a convict spends in the jail is more than enough cooling period and that they should be given a new lease of life immediately.

β€œThey must be kept actively engaged in doing productive works. Otherwise, their idle mind and body can sway and fall back onto their past,” another parent added.

A police clearance certificate or NOC is a document issued by the police stating whether or not any criminal offense has been recorded against the person. It is a document that provides confirmation of a person’s criminal status.

Ex-convicts who were once behind bars are put on a provisional period ranging from three months to five years depending on their time spent in jail. This period is called as β€˜cooling period’.

According to the police, there are different durations of cooling periods, within which, ex-convicts cannot process his/her NOC.

For a prison term of 10 years, 5 years, and 3 years, the cooling periods are four years, two years, and one year respectively.

A prisoner who has served a jail term of 15 years and above for first-degree crime are put on probation for four years while a prisoner who has committed second-degree crime with a term of nine to 15 years is put on a provisional term of three years. A third-degree crime (five to nine years) perpetrator is given two years, fourth-degree offenders (three to five years) are given one year and those who served one year for misdemeanors are given 6 months.

A person who commits petty misdemeanor which translates to a term of one month is given three months cooling period.

Although varying degrees of criminal charges are accorded different provisional periods when released all the prisoners face the same problem – living a life without a NOC for a certain period of time.

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