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Column New rules for sex offenders aren’t an option, they’re a no-brainer

We don’t even have an actual sex offenders’ register – and change is long overdue, writes campaigner and abuse survivor Andrew Madden.

THE ASSOCIATION OF Garda Sergeants and Inspectors conference today called for convicted sex offenders to regularly supply gardaí with additional personal information, including photographs.

The system of monitoring and support of sex offenders needs to be radically improved and gardaí having photographs of convicted offenders sounds like a very basic start.

Remember it was only last July that a Donegal caretaker, Michael Ferry, who returned to work in a school where he had previously sexually abused a child, was convicted for a second time for molesting and raping four boys at the same school, while he was subject to the conditions of the Sex Offenders’ Register.

The monitoring and support of convicted sex offenders in Ireland is almost non-existent. Sex offenders who have served their sentences are generally released into the community without supervision, though some are under the supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service. The requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 do not mean that there is any real supervision… and that’s not just my view, they are the words of Judge Yvonne Murphy in the Murphy Report.

There is an urgent need for changes to this system to be made:

  • There is no actual sex offenders’ register. Released offenders simply notify the gardaí of their intended residential address. A multi-agency approach to the support and monitoring of released offenders must be developed along with a more stringent regime of signing on procedures with regular personal visits to Garda stations by released offenders.
  • All convicted sex offenders should be considered high-risk on release and should be monitored and supported accordingly. All such offenders should be subject to a Post Release Supervision Order which should be put in place at the time the offender is being released and not at the time of sentencing which is currently the case.
  • Those responsible for monitoring sex offenders should have the powers and the resources to make regular unannounced visits to the homes of released sex offenders.
  • Monitoring of sex offenders should include polygraph testing, electronic tagging, curfews and other restrictions – for example, an offender who only ever abuses children after he/she has taken alcohol should have it as a condition of their release that they don’t consume alcohol.
  • Parents and guardians should be able to register a concern with authorities about any individual who has access to their children about whom they are genuinely worried and in some cases it should be possible for them to be told if such an individual is a known sex offender or not.

This last measure is already being rolled out in the UK, having being piloted to great effect over an eighteen-month period. The pilot scheme in four counties saw one in ten calls to police uncover evidence of a criminal past. Out of 315 applications for information from concerned parents, details of 21 paedophiles were revealed. These were sex offenders known to the authorities who were putting themselves in a position of having access to children again, and they were stopped because those parents could register their concerns and access this informatiion.

Convicted sex offenders make up a very small proportion of all sex offenders, but every effort must still be made to protect children from them.

Andrew Madden is the author of Altar Boy: A Story of Life after Abuse, and writes a blog which can be found here.

Byline photo: Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland

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