Monday, June 19, 2006

Let's just hand power over to the tabloids, shall we?

The Home Office hasn't had a good press lately - what with absconding prisoners, failed anti-terror raids, an amnesty being misconstrued as evidence of soaring knife crime, immigration not doing its job and judges sentencing leniently - so you can hardly be surprised when the new Home Secretary seizes on anything positive to try and get some good PR.

The current story of the week seems to be about introducing 'Megan's Law' and allowing us to know when paedophiles are living in our area. This has the feel of a Blairite tradition in government - knock up some policy on the back of an envelope and announce it, in the manner of the politician's syllogism from Yes Minister:
We must do something
This is something
Therefore we must do this
Paedophiles are amongst the toughest groups of offenders that the system has to handle. They have a very high level of reoffending and while some respond to treatment programmes, there are a number that are entirely untreatable. While it seems to makes sense not to house released offenders in close proximity to schools, bear in mind that schools are scattered across urban areas - I live around ten minutes' walk away from around five primaries and two secondary schools - and children live and play everywhere. In any case, the general secretary of the probation officers' union says that there is no evidence to suggest that offenders have preyed on nearby schools - it isn't the way they offend. He added
'Many of them would have been in the middle of various treatment programmes that will be disrupted. I've spoken to staff who are trying to find alternative accommodation for them and ... they are all going to other hostels that are less than a few hundred metres away from schools.'

Ray Wyre, a man who has spent a career working with paedophiles, adds that the whole idea of notifying local residents of a sex offender in their neighbourhood is ineffective because 80% of offenders abuse children in their own families and these criminals cannot be identified because that will identify the children as well - something already prohibited by law.

There's also the concern about the accuracy of the data - almost 200 people were wrongly labelled as offenders by the Criminal Records Bureau checks. The US equivalent of the sex offenders register is also less accurate because the criminals supply false information to protect themselves.

While long jail - possibly full term life - sentences will protect the public against the most dangerous offenders, most will have to be released back into the community at some point. Continued supervision and treatment seems to be the most effective answer, as exposing them to public attention will drive them further underground and possibly back into the cycle of offending. That sort of work is expensive and time consuming, but it offers the best chance of protecting our children. One of the most interesting is the Circles of Support concept, where a released offender is befriended by a small group, who will meet as a group on a weekly basis, but will have daily contact with the 'core member' and hold them accountable for their behaviour, while offering encouragement and advice on avoiding reoffending. It is never going to make the headlines, nor will the hang 'em and flog 'em columnists ever approve, but that sort of programme has proved effective.

As Mr Eugenides points out, there's a child molestor in your area now. Without knowing precisely who that is, that information is useless to you and will merely lead to everybody bolting themselves in behind their front doors. This is just a licence for the local thugs to go round after a few drinks and administer a punishment beating as some sort of unofficial service to the community. This is a media-driven publicity stunt by a Home Secretary looking for a break from the bad news, it isn't a strategy to protect our children.

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