Public to police child sex convicts
Andrew Denholm Home Affairs Correspondent
PAEDOPHILES will be integrated into the community under radical plans to introduce a "buddy" system for sex offenders.
Members of the public will be asked to befriend convicted child sex offenders in a bid to stop them re-offending, The Scotsman has learned.
Under controversial new proposals, volunteers would be recruited to act as mentors to paedophiles and to create a social life for them. They would take them on outings, go shopping together and even help them celebrate their birthdays. Volunteers would receive specialised training.
The Circles of Support scheme, being considered by a steering group of religious bodies, the police and community safety charities, aims to aid the reform of sex offenders, giving them more normal lives after their release from prison.
But it would also provide an early warning system for police if a paedophile began demonstrating concerning behaviour, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
The system would plug an existing loophole, where sex offenders who have served their sentences and are not under licence go unmonitored, apart from being listed on the sex offenders’ register.
Members of the steering group, currently working on a proposal for four pilot projects to be presented to the Executive early next year, believe this additional monitoring of offenders will help to increase community safety.
The government recently admitted there were 18,513 convicted sex offenders living in communities in the UK. After Sarah Payne’s murder two years ago by a previously convicted paedophile, Roy Whiting, there was enormous public pressure for the creation of a register of known paedophiles for parents to consult. But many sex offenders have faced angry mobs when their identities become known, driving them underground, prompting fears they would find it easier to re-offend.
Early indications are that the project has been successful in reducing offending, with a study in Canada, where it was developed, showing that of 30 sex offenders, only three re-offended - nearly half the failure rate of existing schemes.
The Canadian success prompted the Home Office to set up a £300,000 pilot scheme in England last year.
Keith Simpson, the head of service development for SACRO, an Edinburgh-based charity which works with former offenders, said: " It makes sense for people living in the community to be monitored by people who actually know them and who can also be a positive influence on their lives. Former sex offenders are often isolated and, by being pushed to the boundaries of society, are at risk of offending again."
David McCann, the national co-ordinator for social care with the Catholic Church, added: "Anything which helps protect children from these types of offences must be welcomed. This is about making sure those who are released from prison are given every opportunity not to re-offend if they can help it."
David Turner, a member of the Scottish Quakers and the chairman of the steering group, said: "There is a lot of hostility towards sex offenders which, while it may be understandable, can actually increase the risk of offending because it isolates people even further. Under this scheme, monitoring levels will be very high and that has to increase community safety."
But Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, warned that paedophiles could be very manipulative. He said: "It’s essential the volunteers have a very high level of training if they are not to be duped."
Lyn Costello, the co-founder of Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, said the scheme made her "despair". She said: "If paedophiles are so dangerous that there is a risk of them re-offending, they should never be let out of prison in the first place. The only friends they should be making are their cellmates."
And the father of a child murdered by a known paedophile, said: "It is a complete waste of public money, as simple as that. Who will listen to me?’’
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "The exploration of Circles of Support is at a very early stage in Scotland.
"A steering group has been set up which includes members from the police, the Association of Directors of Social Work, SACRO, the Quakers, and a number of churches.
"A member of the Executive has also attended one of the group’s conferences."