Prisoners need “cooling period” before they get security clearance, employment a problem

Phuntsho N Dorji was released a month ago after serving a three-year prison term. He wants to resume a normal life and is seeking employment, there being nobody to support him since he lost his parents a couple of years ago.

The only hitch is he has to acquire a security clearance.

“I may not be able to survive like this for long,” he said.

This surely is a problem in Bhutan since the country’s judiciary system denies released prisoners their security clearance certificate (SCC) for a certain period of time.

People who were once behind bars are put on a provisional period ranging from three months to four years by the court during which time they won’t be getting their SCC. This period is intended to observe them for improvements.

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) perpetuator 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. People who commit petty misdemeanor which translates to a term of one month is given three months.

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 SCC for a certain period of time. Some prisoners can appeal for a sympathy grant of SCC from the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MOHCA) considering the jail term they have served and with a recommendation from the Royal Bhutan Police and the courts. But the prisoners who served for major crimes are alienated from these grants.

Though the provision is considered an observing period, having to survive without a SCC and therefore a decent job can put tremendous strain on the released prisoners.

Corporations and ministries demand printed copies of SCC to confirm a person’s track record as against the directives of the Home Ministry which says that while recruiting new employees they have to refer the updates of SCC of the individual on the website of the ministry as a printed copy is not reliable in its update. But this certainly does not happen in some cases and there were complaints from individuals to the ministry about the agencies asking for hard copies of SCC while applying for employment.

“Nobody has shown up asking for any sort of assistance, but if they do then I am sure the government will help them if it’s really genuine,” the information and media officer at the bureau of law and order division under the home ministry, Jigme Singye, told The Bhutanese when asked if former prisoners would be issued SCC right after they are released.

“The government does not have any authority over this, especially with regard to those who were imprisoned for first degree crimes; only the monarch does,” he added.

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