Impossible to calculate whether sex offender programmes work, prison chief admits

Prison chief Brigadier Hugh Monro. Picture: PA
Prison chief Brigadier Hugh Monro. Picture: PA
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THERE is no evidence to suggest whether sex offender programmes in jails are working or not, Scotland’s inspector of prisons has admitted.

Brigadier Hugh Monro told the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee that more information is needed to assess the risk inmates will pose when they are on the outside.

He also raised concerns about the “penal cul-de-sac” where sex offenders do not receive any help because they refuse to admit their crime.

New figures released yesterday show the number of sex offenders living in communities has reached a five-year high of 3,222.

However, Brig Monro said it was impossible to calculate the risk they pose when released from prison, either because they have refused help, or because of a lack of understanding surrounding the merits of programmes they have attended.

“These are sex offenders who refuse to admit their guilt and are sent to (HMP) Dumfries for that reason,” he said.

“Therefore they are not going to access sex offender programmes.”

Asked if this was what he meant by the phrase ‘penal cul-de-sac’ used in his annual report, he replied: “I felt strongly that this was not a healthy way forward, either for those sex offenders or for staff.”

The inspector believes that part of the problem is the difficulty in understanding the thinking of sex offenders.

He said: “I can’t tell you how effective sex offender programmes are in dealing with sex offenders, in challenging their behaviour and whether it has been worthwhile or not.

“Are sex offenders like alcoholics? Abstinence is good, and you get that in prison, but on release does your behaviour go back to what it was before? And I don’t know that.

“I find it difficult to understand these people who will not admit their guilt.”

Public concern about sex offenders has reached a new peak following high profile allegations, including against former DJ and presenter Jimmy Savile.

MSPs said assessing the work done by sex offender programmes should now be a priority.

Graeme Pearson, member of the justice committee and a former senior police officer, asked Brig Monro: “I would take it you would agree this thorny issue, difficult though it is, needs additional attention?

“Trying to work out what works and what is successful is an important priority that we should be addressing as soon as we can.”

Brig Monro replied: “Indeed.

“We need some evidence and help in these matters in terms of risk. We have not got that and we need that.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservatives have called for satellite tracking of sex offenders to ensure they abide by the rules of their release or face tough consequences.

The party’s chief whip, John Lamont MSP said: “People should not have to live in fear of sex offenders in the community.

“But they have to be housed somewhere, and that is why satellite tracking is so crucial to this.

“At least they can be monitored that way and, if they are found to breach the terms of their release, authorities can be alerted instantly and the punishment severe.”

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it took into account an offender’s failure to admit their guilt, when carrying out a risk assessment upon their release from prison.