Criminal Justice Inspection reports on the Management of Sex Offenders

Criminal Justice Inspection has published its assessment on the work undertaken to date by criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland to improve arrangements for the management of sex offenders following the murder of Strabane pensioner Attracta Harron.
The independent inspection, carried out at the request of Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson MP after Trevor Hamilton was sentenced for Mrs. Harron’s murder, has confirmed considerable progress has been made to improve the interagency management of sex offenders.
“I can report today that having carried out a thorough inspection of the progress made so far by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Prison Service, more robust measures are now in place. However more action is still required,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Our interim inspection revealed a number of further issues which need to be addressed. That has led me to make seven recommendations in an effort to further improve the system,” he said.
“The most important single step that can be taken to improve public protection is ending the practice of automatic early release of dangerous offenders after serving 50% of their sentence and introducing parole arrangements.
“I recommend that the Government bring forward legislation to address this issue, to create more scope for extended and indeterminate sentences which would place Northern Ireland on a similar footing to England and Wales in this regard,” stated the Chief Inspector.
Mr. Chivers said that while he had seen evidence that the PSNI’s management of sex offenders had improved as a result of this case,further action was needed.
“The PSNI have been very frank about certain failings in their handling of Trevor Hamilton, and there is no doubt the Police Service has felt the impact of this case. However, it was concerning to find that awareness of the recommendations made in the Serious Case Review into the management of Trevor Hamilton came from a television documentary rather than from reading the report which was available on the PSNI website.
“We were concerned to hear that officers who dealt directly with offenders were uncertain about their authority for undertaking this work. It is essential they should have the confidence to operate effectively, recognising that Common Law, case law and the statutes under which they operate all prioritise their duty to protect the public.
The Chief Inspector continued: “It was also troubling to learn that access to ViSOR – the Violent and Sex Offender Register – was restricted to such a level that most officers undertaking home visits were insufficiently briefed about the person on whom they are calling. This is inhibiting and we have recommended that access to the ViSOR system should be made more widely available.”
CJI also called for the status of public protection work to be raised in all the agencies. The management of sex offenders should be featured in the Northern Ireland Policing Plan so that its significance is enhanced by being measured against policing objectives.
And it has also urged the Northern Ireland Sex Offender Strategic Management Committee to initiate work on an accommodation strategy for sex offenders after release.
“Northern Ireland’s hostels offer an invaluable service in assisting with the management of high risk offenders but they are currently facing serious difficulties. While they are never popular, well-run, properly resourced hostels, where curfews and room searches can be applied along with other restrictive interventions such as the monitoring of acquaintances, have to be part of the solution,” added Mr. Chivers.
In conclusion, Northern Ireland’s Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice reiterated his recommendation for police, probation and others to form a Public Protection Team.
“The work would be greatly enhanced if they were working together from the same location as part of an inter-agency team engaged full time on this work,” he stated.