Wednesday, 11 April 2007

'Sarah's Law'

My local newspaper had a front page splash earlier this week about the 'joy' of a neighbouring MP that a new 'Sarah's Law' giving parents information about the location of local paedophiles was going to be trialled in his area. The Home Office subsequently issued a statement which put a rather different gloss on the story - suggesting that the main change was to give a woman the right to know if a man who was about to move in with her and her children was on the sex offenders register. But either way, this is an emotive and difficult issue.

I think a common starting point is that if a sex offender is released after serving his sentence, there needs to be an effective system of ongoing risk-based monitoring. Whilst it is impossible to reduce the risk to zero unless every sex offender is imprisoned until they are infirm, there must be clear evidence as to which sex offenders in the community pose the biggest threat to the public. My impression is that the police and probation services are so over-stretched that the level of supervision is pretty minimal. I would like to see it boosted, and over-seen by someone like a magistrate.

But I don't support the publication of names and addresses of offenders. Whilst it might at first sight 'feel' more secure to know where offenders are living, past evidence has suggested that lynch mobs quickly form and offenders are driven into hiding. I would far rather know that someone like a magistrate was checking that the Police and probation were supervising past sex offenders than know that no-one had a clue where they were living. This is a case where the Government should stand up to a tabloid campaign, however well meaning.

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