No exit: sex offenders jailed for all time

New South Wales, Australia

In the past years, 10 men have been kept in NSW prisons months after they finished doing their time. Their sentences have expired but the Government brands them "high-risk, hard-core" offenders, and the courts have ordered further detention.

All are serious sex offenders - men with a long history of raping or sexually assaulting women, girls or boys in abhorrent crimes.

It has been a year since the introduction of the Serious Sex Offender legislation, which allows the detention or close supervision of serious sex offenders past their release date "for the safety and protection of the community". The legislation is designed to encourage them to undertake treatment, which is believed to reduce the chance they will reoffend.

The new law has caused a debate over the best way to deal with sex offenders - whether they should be freed at the end of their sentence, locked up forever or released only after successful treatment.

The Government defends its tough stance but others are unconvinced about the law's effectiveness. The real test will come after those men who have agreed to treatment seek release.

Already the Government has applied to keep two of the men, who have enrolled in the recommended treatment program, in jail for up to five more years when their detention ends.
When it was introduced, the Government said the scheme was designed for "a handful" of serious offenders who had not tried to rehabilitate in prison. The intent was to allow them to be placed under long-term supervision, or "in only the worst cases, kept in custody".

Only one of the 10 men kept in prison since the law was introduced - Neville Francis Hadson - is living in the community under strict supervision, after four extra months in prison.

Another, Raymond Barry Cornwall, was released on supervision last December but removed his electronic anklet within an hour of being freed and is serving a sentence for this breach.

The first of the men subjected to the new law, Kenneth Davidson Tillman, was kept under surveillance by private investigators from 6am to 6.30pm for 12 days when released, before he was returned to detention after an appeal.

Those who have been detained are expected to finish approved treatment programs, available only in custody, to reduce their likelihood of reoffending before they are considered for release.
But Tillman's case has reportedly been taken up by the UN Human Rights Committee. The legislation has strong opposition from the civil rights lobby.

The public has "charged emotional views" about sex offenders, says Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. "Many of the measures sound good, make people feel good, but I'm struggling to see how they in effect assist the community," he says.

Detention is additional punishment which undermines the criminal justice system, Murphy says, and it is the human right of prisoners to know their maximum prison term at the time of sentence. In effect, people are being incarcerated not for something they have done, but something they might do in the future.

Not so, says Howard Brown from the victims support group VOCAL. They are not being punished for possible future offences but for their failure to seek treatment in the past. In a democracy "the needs of the greater [community] sometimes supersede the needs of the individual", he says.
Murphy counters that, if we want sex offenders detained for life, we should debate this publicly, but the full punishment should be known at the time of sentence.

It is not the first time the NSW Government has detained people past their sentence. However, the legislation to detain the killer Gregory Wayne Kable in 1994 was later ruled unconstitutional.
Legislation to detain serious offenders in Western Australia withstood a High Court appeal in 2004, against the dissenting opinion of Justice Michael Kirby. He invoked the spectre of 1930s Germany, before saying: "In Australia, such punishment … is not available for crimes that are feared, anticipated or predicted to occur in the future, on evidence that is notoriously unreliable and otherwise would be inadmissible, and by people who do not have the gift of prophesy."
Queensland and Victoria also have legislation allowing for the detention of serious offenders.
NSW's deputy senior public defender, Andrew Haesler, SC, says Victoria leads the way with its program of preparing offenders for release, with planned and funded supervision and psychiatric treatment.

Some states in the US provide for mandatory "chemical castration" - medication that reduces testosterone levels, hence suppressing sex drive. Others have followed New Jersey in adopting "Megan's law", which allows for the public to be notified about the location of released sex offenders.

In Britain, sex offenders are sometimes kept under strict surveillance. Canada and New Zealand have similar schemes.

The NSW law has been criticised as an example of the Government wanting to be seen as tough on crime, but not spending the money to support it or offering alternative approaches.
Sex offenders are being targeted, suggests Dr Stephen Allnutt, a psychiatrist and conjoined senior lecturer at the University of NSW, because the public find their offences "quite abhorrent". But statistics show they actually reoffend less often than other criminals.

Among those classified in the worst category of sex offenders, 45 per cent will reoffend within 10 years. But within only two years 47 per cent of other offenders will have returned to prison, the Supreme Court was told in one of the cases.

Probably those most likely to commit further crimes when they come out of prison are untreated drug offenders, says Haesler, who has represented serious sex offenders fighting detention orders.
"I don't condone what my clients do, just because I am a defence lawyer. But we've got it wrong in locking them up for ever and ever."

The Government stands by its decision to target sex offenders only. "High-risk sex offenders who have not made any attempt to rehabilitate whilst in prison pose a very real threat to the public," says a spokesman for the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos.

While many factors turn someone into a sex offender, the profiles of the 10 men detained under the new law have similarities: alcohol abuse, relationship problems, broken homes, intimacy issues and - often - being the victim of sexual abuse.

Statistically, someone might fall into the group of high-risk offenders, sharing many of the risk factors, but there is no way of telling whether they will reoffend, says Linda Valenta, president of the Australian & New Zealand Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse.

Asked if she would mind living next to a known sex offender, Valenta says abuse is close to home for many people. "A lot of people probably already do live next door to people who are abusing."
But treatment is proven to reduce recidivism rates by between 15 and 30 per cent, she says.
Brown is less optimistic, comparing sex offenders to alcoholics, who are never cured but can sometimes abstain.

Some psychologists believe treatment doesn't work, and argue that more treated than untreated offenders reoffend because they lie when they realise they can "graduate" only if they parrot the lines fed to them by therapists.

But even those pressured into treatment often change their attitude and receive real benefits from it, Valenta says.

Research shows recidivism is high for treatment dropouts. Interrupted treatment may make offenders worse by introducing them to bad role models and a range of new, sexually deviant behaviours and fantasies.

However, another study found those who deny their offences and accept no treatment reoffend less than others who seek treatment.

Allnutt warns about the reliability of such studies because for ethical reasons there are no control groups that receive "placebo" treatment.

The Custody-based Intensive Treatment program runs in the prison system for offenders deemed to present the highest risk of reoffending. They do no chores and do not socialise; their sole focus is the program.

David Bright, a research fellow at the University of NSW, helped set up the program in 1999 and led changes to it in 2005. He says the course aims to change prisoners' risk factors.
"Men who offend against children, for example, will often have attitudes that allow them to reoffend - that children enjoy sexual contact with adults, or that children or teenagers are allowing them or consenting to sexual activity," he says.

"We can look at changing their attitudes towards women or towards children and sex."
Most men who agree to treatment are not doing it because they are dissatisfied with their lives or remorseful. They seek parole or better conditions. Even so, many of them have to wait for a vacancy: the program only has 40 places.

" The program has gained momentum and gained credibility, particularly with the new legislation, which I think that has motivated (in inverted commas) a lot more men to seek the program or at least to agree to it," Bright says.

A study of 104 offenders who completed the program and were released found they reoffended #at less than the rate expected, given their risk factors.

A Government spokesman claims research has shown the program reduces sexual offending by 75 per cent. Some of the 10 men targeted by the legislation had previously refused to enrol in the program. Others had started it, but then dropped out.
[Ed: The English-speaking world continues to lead the pack of sex hysterics worldwide!]

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