03:16pm Wednesday 16 August 2017

Research challenges government management of sex offenders

Professor Bernadette McSherry
 

Post-sentence preventive detention in prison means sex offenders can be ordered to remain in prison after serving their original sentence. The Queensland Government became the first jurisdiction in the world to introduce the framework in 2003. It has since been legislated in Western Australia and NSW, with Victoria potentially set to follow suit.

Each scheme allows a Supreme Court Justice to order serious sex offenders to serve continued detention in prison or be released into the community under supervision. In each case, reviews are conducted annually.

Legal experts and study authors Professor Bernadette McSherry from Monash University and Professor Patrick Keyzer from Bond University said prison overcrowding and a lack of resources, in WA in particular, meant that many offenders went without any treatment or supervision, which could increase the risk of re-offending when prisoners were eventually released into the community.

Their research, detailed in the book Sex Offenders and Preventive Detention: Politics, Policy and Practice compares government policy responses to the challenge of managing sex offenders in Australia, the US and Scotland.

Researchers found the Scottish model could provide Australian states with the best balance between ensuring public safety and meeting human rights requirements.

“Two large studies have found that only about 13 per cent of sex offenders re-offend within four to five years of release, yet state governments in Australia find it easier to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep someone in prison, rather than the tens of thousands it would take to put adequate support systems in place to manage them upon release,” Professor McSherry said.

“This denies certain offenders the basic human rights offered to other released prisoners and also means that people in the community will be placed at greater risk because accommodation, social services and treatment programs are not made available to offenders once they are eventually released.”

Under the Scottish model, established in 2006, prisoners are informed of their life-long restrictions at the time of sentencing, not after they are released, and the government provides funding to train risk assessors and supervise high-risk offenders once they are released back into the community.

For interviews contact Professor McSherry on +61 412 303 414 or Professor Keyzer on +61 408 671 276.

For further information contact Shaunnagh O’Loughlin, Media and Communications, on +61 3 9903 4843 or +61 448 574 148.


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