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Sex Offender’s Register will Increase Public Fear

Sex Offender’s Register will Increase Public Fear Unnecessarily

“New Zealand should resist dealing with cases where an individual offender beats the system, by legislating against a whole class of offenders,”, says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. He was commenting on Corrections Minister Anne Tolley’s proposal to introduce something similar to the UK Sex Offenders Register, after convicted sex offender Terito Henry Miki assumed fake identities and used forged documents to work in schools.

“English-speaking nations introduce legislation to deal with every contingency, when an administrative tidy-up may be all that is necessary. None of the European countries have found a sex offender’s register necessary – they still believe in giving released offenders a fair go. Kiwis used to believe in the maxim , “Do the Crime, Do the Time”. Now we want to treat released offenders as fugitives in their own country, after they’ve paid the price.”

“The Minister’s suggestion that the register would be based on the UK model, sends out early warning signals. The most fundamental concern is that legislation of this kind unnecessarily raises the level of public fear, even hysteria.

The UK system would create more problems than it solves, and result in the costly and time consuming surveillance of people who are at a very low risk of offending. In the UK, two teenagers engaged in under age consensual sex could end up on the register. Treated sex offenders with, with a likely recidivism rate of 4 – 8% could be included. Not all sex offenders are paedophiles, but there will be a tendency, even by officials, to treat them as though they are – the recent Piha case is a good example of that.

The UK experience shows that there is no control over what people will do with the information, once they have it. Sex offending is a highly emotional issue, and the information can be used to harass ffenders, who are determined to go straight, get a job, and get on with their lives.

While the UK system is better than the public registers common to the USA, they are still likely to do more harm than good. Driving offenders into hiding increases the chances they will offend. It is also likely to result in offenders being re-imprisoned, not for reoffending, but for failing to register. The result is a further marginalisation of offenders from society.

The funding needed to run such a scheme, would be better invested in the Corrections Circles of Support and Accountability scheme, which uses trained volunteers to provide oversight over released sex offenders. Public awareness education would also be a good use of the money – the NZ Crime and Safety Survey tells us that only 10% of all sexual abuse is reported to the Police – let’s find ways of encouraging people to report sexual abuse, so we can lower the levels of serious sex offending.

Some Facts about the UK System

• The UK sex offenders register contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offence against children or adults since September 1997. Convicted sex offenders must register with the police within three days of their conviction or release from prison, and failure to register can lead to imprisonment.

• Those on the register are required to notify the police if they change their name or address, and are also required to reveal any plans to travel outside the UK. Again, failure to comply is an offence.

• The police can photograph offenders every time they register, and all forces exchange information about the movements of such offenders, with a national computerised database having been set up to facilitate this procedure.

• Police forces can also apply for sex offender orders that bar offenders from certain activities and areas frequented by children. Offenders are given strict licence conditions and can be sent back to jail if they fail to cooperate.

• An enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check, required for anyone who works with children, would flag up someone's presence on the register, or previous convictions or cautions, to a potential employer.


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