Ladies and Gentlemen
May I start off by thanking you all for giving up your time to be present here today.
You have been invited because your views are important to me and my Department in planning the way forward on how we manage this group of offenders.
I am determined to press ahead and introduce new measures to deal with the management of convicted sex offenders as soon as possible.
An informed debate
The general public have a particular revulsion for sex offenders. We immediately think of the worst possible cases. The degradation, the abuse of trust, the trauma caused to the victim, the invasive nature of the crime prompt a very emotional reaction in all of us.
That reaction is perfectly understandable. I am not here today to say that we should not abhor such crimes but if we are to address the problem in any meaningful way we have to take a clinical and evidence based approach.
One of my main purposes in publishing the Document "The Management of Sex Offenders" was to stimulate a reasoned dialogue. What we are particularly interested in is hearing views on the perspective of victims in the context of the management of sex offenders. This is a complicated and, for some, a very painful matter and there can be all sorts of competing rights at issue, for example:
What is good for the individual victim?
What is best for society?
What is the position of the constitutional rights of and safeguards for the offender?
This Discussion Document involves a systematic review of all aspects to see what more can be done or how we can do existing things better. It reviews the legislation, what can the courts do, what can the Probation Service do, what can the Gardaí do and what can be done in prison. In particular it poses a very important question - do the existing measures work together in an integrated way, with all those involved having the same overall objective ? In this context it follows sex offenders through every stage of the criminal justice system to ensure that the system will work in a more coherent way and that there will be no gaps.
The Document was drawn up by the operational people who are directly involved in dealing with sex offenders themselves as well as those involved in formulating policy and preparing legislation on sex offenders. They came from the Gardaí, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, Cosc and my Department and sat down together to look at every aspect of the management of convicted sex offenders.
The Discussion Document sets out the existing law and practice. What currently happens to a person convicted of a sexual offence in court and the arrangements in prison? It also looks at the role of the Gardaí and the Probation Service when a prisoner, convicted of a sexual offence, has completed his or her sentence and is released into the community.
I believe that we can learn from what happens in other countries and the Discussion Document looks at the practice in dealing with sex offenders in a number of other jurisdictions. The Document also discusses the various issues that arise and suggests how we can improve our existing system.
Although it was produced as a Discussion Document and not a final set of recommendations, I certainly fully endorse the document while remaining open to the consideration of any other suggestions. So what you are talking about today are not vague aspirational proposals but a firm set of practical measures that can and will be implemented unless the consultative process throws up new and better proposals.
When we talk about sex offenders there is a tendency to treat them as one homogenous group but that is not the case. Research tells us that sex offenders are not all the same. They commit different types of offences for different reasons. They also come from a variety of social classes and age groups and are a much more diverse group than the "typical criminal". Some pose very little risk of committing another serious offence while others can only be described as posing a very high risk to the public. Research both in Ireland and in other jurisdictions indicates that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend than "ordinary" criminals". Yet I know this is very cold comfort for any victim of such offenders. So what we need to do is identify those persons that pose a higher risk of re-offending and concentrate our efforts on them.
What is proposed?
Turning now to the new measures proposed in the Discussion Document.
Standardised, evidence based risk assessments specifically designed for sex offenders will be introduced with the aim of assessing the risk level of all convicted sex offenders.
The results of assessments will be shared as appropriate between the Gardaí, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service.
In the case of every person convicted of a sexual offence, the sentencing court will be offered a risk assessment for the offender. The aim is to ensure courts have better information when deciding on sentences and any post release supervision.
All sex offenders in prison will be risk assessed for the purpose of determining the appropriate interventions in prison so as to inform plans for their release back into the community following completion of their sentence.
All sex offenders registered with the Gardaí will also be assessed.
The purpose of risk assessment is to identify the higher risk sex offenders, determine the appropriate interventions and the level of monitoring that may be required.
Turning now to the treatment of sex offenders in prison which has been the subject of much comment. A very intensive Sex Offender Programme was introduced in Irish Prisons in 1994. While it was based on the latest thinking, I understand that a recent review of the programme suggests that any progress made with individual offenders does not seem to have been maintained out in the community at a level that could be regarded as successful. There also has been considerable difficulty in finding suitably motivated offenders who were willing or able to participate.
The Irish Prison Service has recently completed a review of the programme. As a result a number of new initiatives aimed at increasing the range, flexibility and availability of therapeutic interventions for sex offenders in prison are being introduced. I will shortly be making a separate announcement on this important new initiative. Today I will just say that a priority will be to increase the participation rates for sex offenders in prison and the effectiveness of the interventions. It will not be a "one size fits all model". There will be structured clinical assessments of sex offenders after committal to determine the appropriate interventions. These may include one to one therapeutic interventions, offence-related group therapeutic interventions and the use of in-reach services. Sex offenders may also be involved in other interventions such as anger management.
With a few exceptions most sex offenders eventually complete their sentence and return to the community. Research clearly indicates that perhaps the most critical time is the period when an offender moves from prison into the community. We have to focus on this transitional period. Where appropriate a case conference will be held, involving the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Garda Síochána and others as required, to prepare a strategy for the re-integration of the offender into the community.
The three main objectives for this transitional period for higher risk sex offenders will be:
• to ensure some element of continuity of treatment into the community if the prisoner has already participated in an intervention in prison so that any progress made is not lost;
• to ensure that the offender has appropriate accommodation and employment so that he or she can be easily monitored and has a vested interest in not being returned to prison; and
• to ensure that all higher risk sex offenders will be monitored on an individual basis by local risk management committees involving the Garda Síochána and the Probation Service.
There will be a network of local risk management committees whose job will be to monitor all the identified high risk sex offenders in the community and to take what ever action they determine is necessary. New statutory powers will be given to the Gardaí and the Probation Service to carry out this task and to more effectively and efficiently monitor released sex offenders. Importantly this will include the power for the Probation Service to apply to court to impose new conditions on sex offenders about to be released and who are to be subject to post release supervision orders.
As part of this process I have directed my officials to look at the legislative and administrative implications of monitoring certain higher risk sex offenders electronically using GPS technology. This technology would allow a record to be kept of all the movements made by a sex offender for a period of time. If any worrying patterns emerge, it would be used as evidence to obtain a court sex offenders order prohibiting the offender from doing certain things or visiting certain areas. The Project Board, led by the Probation Service, has begun this work and I expect to hear back from them later in the year.
Involvement of other sectors
When an offender has completed his sentence and moves back into the community, the role of the criminal justice agencies is limited. One of the challenges facing us is how to mobilise in a coordinated fashion those bodies outside the Justice family who can have a crucial role in ensuring sex offenders re-integrated into the community so as to minimise the likelihood of them re-offending.
Every proposal has its limitations and dealing with sex offenders is a complicated business. There is no miracle cure or set of proposals that will instantly solve the problem.
I am convinced that the measures proposed will significantly improve the effectiveness of our interventions with convicted sex offenders and I am determined that we should proceed. I hope that we will get your support.
I look forwarding to hearing the report of your work here today and to reading any written submissions you wish to make in response to the Discussion Document.