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Child sex offender back before the courts

Westgate Correctional Facility

A sex offender sentenced to ten years in prison for attacks on two children has been accused of harming three more youngsters after being released early from jail.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, served a little more than six years in Westgate before he left the prison on his “earliest release date”, according to the Ministry of National Security.

There was no public warning issued upon his release to indicate he might pose a danger and it is understood there were no conditions attached to his return to society because he was not paroled but deemed to have completed his sentence.

Child safety campaigner Sheelagh Cooper questioned yesterday whether the man took part in a sex offender treatment programme while in prison because of an alleged lack of such schemes.

The 47-year-old man has now been charged with further sex offences involving three children.

The first two offences are alleged to have happened less than a year after his release from jail, while the third incident was said to have happened earlier this year.

He appeared in court on March 7 when he denied the three charges, opted for a Magistrates’ Court trial and was remanded in custody.

A trial date has not yet been set.

The man was previously convicted in Magistrates’ Court of sexual offences involving a child.

Later he was found guilty by a Supreme Court jury of four sex offences involving a different youngster.

The mother of one of the children told The Royal Gazette she was devastated to receive a letter from the authorities informing her of his early release from prison.

“Did he really get rehabilitated when he was in there?” she asked.

She said her child was “horrified” to learn of the offender’s release and remained very traumatised even now, years after the man harmed her.

Ms Cooper said the case was the latest to raise alarming questions about the management of convicted sex offenders, including why they were routinely allowed early release from prison, with some not having taken part in treatment programmes.

She stressed that it was not known if this offender had any treatment in prison because the Department of Corrections refused to divulge the information.

“Serving two-thirds has come to be regarded as the usual,” said Ms Cooper. “But when they release them at two-thirds … that means there is no control whatsoever once they leave prison.

“It has morphed into a final sentence. The argument that I have been making for the last several years is that they should go back to treating it as time off for good behaviour, which is what the law intended it to be.”

She said any sex offender who refused to participate in prison programmes should be viewed as having violated good behaviour and should lose the right to have a third of their sentence remitted.

“That would allow them to hold on to dangerous offenders … to the full extent of their sentence,” she added.

Ms Cooper questioned whether the man in this case took part in a programme because she had heard from inmates and others that little treatment was available.

A public access to information request she submitted to the Department of Corrections four years ago about sex offender treatment programmes has yet to yield any details about what was offered.

“One might conclude from the reluctance to answer questions that very little was taking place during the years this man was in prison,” Ms Cooper said.

The Gazette asked Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and the Minister of Legal Affairs, why she did not issue a public warning about the man when he was released.

We also asked what treatment programmes he had completed in prison, if she believed he was rehabilitated, and whether this factored into her decision not to issue a warning.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Chambers said: “The Attorney-General’s decisions are guided by different factors in each individual case, including psychological assessments provided by the Department of Corrections.”

A Ministry of National Security spokesman confirmed the man was in custody for six years but said the Department of Corrections “will not speak specifically about an individual’s treatment or any programmes that they attended while in our custody”.

The spokesman said that before the prisoner’s release, the department followed the sex offender notification protocol.

The ministry told The Royal Gazette earlier this month that there were two clinical forensic psychologists employed at present by the Department of Corrections.

The Gazette submitted a Pati request to the Parole Board about the man’s release.

The board’s information officer said he was not released on parole but “released on his amended earliest release date … as his sentence was complete”.

He added: “The Parole Board was not involved in his release, nor did the Parole Board decide to release him …[he] was not released on parole and therefore there were no parole conditions on his release.”

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Still waiting for answers

Child safety campaigner Sheelagh Cooper submitted a public access to information request about treatment programmes for sex offenders in prison four years ago.

But she has yet to receive all the details she sought from the Department of Corrections.

The detailed request asked for records held by the public authority on its active sex offender treatment programmes between 2010 and 2018, including statistics on the number of offenders participating and completing the schemes.

Her request, made in March 2018, was ultimately narrowed down during an ongoing review by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

But at the start of this week she still did not have the bulk of the information she wanted.

Ms Cooper said she was “astounded” the matter had yet to be resolved and suggested the lack of disclosure could indicate an absence of such programmes at Westgate.

A Ministry of National Security spokesman told The Royal Gazette earlier this month there were two clinical forensic psychologists employed by the Department of Corrections at present.

He said: “The psychologists provide a range of professional psychological assessments and treatment services to inmates designed to address inmates’ needs and reduce their risk of reoffending.

“There are also other members of the programmes team who also play an integral role in the case management of inmates.”

The spokesman said a psychiatrist from the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute visited Westgate weekly for those inmates needing psychiatric treatment.

A change to the law in February 2019 means sex offenders are required to complete court-ordered rehabilitative or therapeutic programmes before either being allowed to apply for parole after serving a third of their term or being released from prison on their early release date after serving two thirds of their sentences.

The Criminal Code (Sex Offender Management) Amendment Act 2018 also requires sex offenders to have a risk assessment two months before leaving prison and for a probation officer to supervise those that require it after release.

Ms Cooper welcomed that change in the law but warned then that appropriate treatment programmes were not available.