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Keeping the community safe from sex offenders

Keeping the community safe from sex offenders

The government has introduced a number of measures in the last year aimed at increasing the community’s protection from sex offenders, and further legislative measures are planned.

Relevant agencies such as Police, Corrections and CYF are introducing improvements to their operational and information-sharing systems, which will enhance their ability to manage and monitor high-risk offenders.

Courts are not able to hand down longer jail terms merely to prevent the risk of re-offending, however. Sex offenders not sentenced to preventive detention are eventually released into the community, and once their parole has terminated, they move beyond control of the law.

The government is currently reviewing a number of options aimed at reducing the prospects of these individuals re-offending.

Sentencing

Under the Sentencing Act 2002, serious offenders can be held indefinitely under preventive detention if they continue to pose a risk to public safety. Anyone sentenced to preventive detention is on lifetime parole if released.

Preventive detention can now be applied to a broader range of offences and is applicable to younger offenders, which means the state is now better able to deal with the most serious offenders such as Barry Ryder.

Special conditions can now be imposed on offenders who are sentenced to supervision but are still considered likely to re-offend. Special conditions can include having to undergo psychiatric counselling, taking part in psychological or therapeutic programmes, placement in the care of an agency, or restrictions on moving address.

Standard conditions applying to those already sentenced to supervision have also been strengthened by the Sentencing Act 2002 to require offenders who wish to move out of the probation area to obtain written consent before doing so.

Parole

The Parole Act 2002 substantially increases the amount of personal information on offenders that Corrections can disclose to the Police, including the requirement that Police are informed of the date of an offender’s release, the conditions that apply to that offender, and the offender’s statutory release date.

Corrections now automatically provides CYF with information on child sex offenders, covering release date, release address, and any information held about whether children live at that address.

The Parole Act 2002 allows offenders jailed for two or more years to be held for the full term of the sentence, whereas previously they had to be released at the two-thirds point (except in exceptional circumstances). Where they are held for the full term, this is followed by a six-month parole period.

Public safety is the paramount concern in Parole Board considerations.

Requirements in the Parole Act 2002 increase the amount of information sharing between Police and Corrections, while CYF and Corrections have developed an agreement specifically covering information sharing on child sex offenders. The ability to recall to prison people who re-offend after release now extends to the full term of their original sentence. Previously an individual could only be recalled up to three months prior to the end of their sentence.

Heavier penalties of up to one year’s jail can be imposed for parole breaches.

Monitoring and Management

Corrections has changed its operational practices to improve the management of sex offenders in the community.

Its Integrated Offender Management system (roll-out completed in mid-2002) ensures all offenders are assessed and given an appropriate management plan which takes into account the risk of re-offending, the factors relating to their criminal behaviour that need addressing, and the degree of motivation the offender has to address the cause of their offending.

Corrections has recently completed the development of a risk-assessment tool, based on international developments, that will be used to predict the probability of a sex offender re-offending.

Further measures

The government is exploring the options for improvements in the monitoring and management of child sex offenders across three areas.

A best-practice scheme will be set up in Dunedin, beginning in May (see attached backgrounder).

The scheme builds on current re-integrative processes undertaken with offenders re-entering the community from prison, and fits in with work Corrections has already begun on a national system for managing high-risk offenders that will set new operating standards, procedures and policies to ensure specified offenders are identified and managed safely in the community in collaboration with police.

Secondly, the government is looking at ways of enhancing current information sharing practices between agencies.

It intends to introduce amendments to the Corrections Bill, currently before the House, to allow for better information sharing between Corrections and Police.

The extra information would include Corrections alerting Police to paroled offenders deemed at high risk of re-offending, and Police disclosing to Corrections full details of any contact they have had with those offenders.

Corrections would be able to systematically advise Police of all temporary releases, including work programmes, weekend and compassionate leave, and the conditions of those releases.

Police would have access to Corrections records to verify conditions of parole, home detention, and supervision set at the discretion of probation officers, as well as the conditions of a sentence of supervision.

Further improvements in information sharing protocols between Corrections, CYF, Police, MSD and Housing are also being investigated to close any gaps. Ministers have requested a report by June 30 on how these improvements will be made.

Finally, the government is examining options for actively monitoring, supporting, and where necessary controlling, child sex offenders well beyond the current parole periods. These options include extended parole imposed by the court at the time of sentencing, and civil restraining orders that could be imposed on offenders considered a danger to the community.

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