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Housing sex offenders in the community is a serious issue

Housing sex offenders in the community is a serious issue


12th March 2018

The housing of sex offenders, once they have either been released on parole or completed their prison sentence, is a major safety issue for Corrections and us as a country. Finding suitable housing far enough away from schools, preschools and residential housing will always be challenging and the Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) says the issue needs discussing and a solution must be found as soon as possible.

“The reality is every prisoner in this country will at some stage come to the end of their prison sentence which means they must be released, and there is nothing we or anyone else can do about that under our current system, as it stands” said Scott Guthrie.

If a high-risk prisoner is due to be released from prison because his or her sentence has come to an end, the Department of Corrections have a couple of options. If they believe that the prisoner is still a risk to society, they can apply to the courts for an Extended Supervision Order (ESO). This will ensure the offender can be both monitored and managed around the long-term risk that is posed by a high risk sex offender or a very high risk violent offender who is back in the community.

In extreme cases a Public Protection Order (PPO) can be applied and that requires the offender to live in a civil detention situation and is supervised twenty-four hours a day by a Corrections Officer or similar. This means the offender lives in a house in the community while being electronically monitored and supervised.

Corrections often does apply to the courts for ESO’s or PPO’s, but those applications are regularly declined by the courts, leaving the public vulnerable and unsafe in the Trust’s opinion.

The SST says Corrections are better equipped to decide whether a prisoner is ready for release or needs monitoring to keep the community safer than the Courts. Judges have the legislative tools to keep the public safe, so they need to start doing their jobs and start using those tools when asked to by Corrections. SST believe this is due to the threshold currently being set too high for an ESO or PPO to be imposed.

Once a sex offender is released into the community and is being monitored, it still leaves the question of where they are going to live. Purpose built housing in certain parts of New Zealand would also be a start to helping Corrections to have somewhere to house this category of offenders and keeping the public as safe from harm as possible.

A publicly available sex offender register would also assist the community in identifying who these offenders are. The SST say that a sex offender register should be publicly available. Simply put, this would enable the public of New Zealand to know who is living close to them, allowing them to better protect their families.

ENDS

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