Housing crisis makes sex offenders harder to monitor, officer warns

Total of 63 convicted offenders live in State without being tracked, conference hears

The conference in Newry heard that the Probation Service monitors 195 sex offenders across the State. File photograph: iStock/Getty Images

The conference in Newry heard that the Probation Service monitors 195 sex offenders across the State. File photograph: iStock/Getty Images

 

The State’s housing crisis is affecting the ability of the authorities to properly monitor and rehabilitate sex offenders when they are released into the community, a senior Probation Service officer has warned.

Pauline Downey said a lack of social housing meant it was increasingly difficult to find stable accommodation for sex offenders when they leave prison.

“You see in various different newspaper reports about the homeless crisis and we’re not an exception to that,” she told a conference in Newry, Co Down, organised by the National Organisation for Treatment of Sex Abusers (Nota). “I think that’s a huge challenge for all of us working in this field for both a public protection and offender rehabilitation point of view.”

The conference heard that the Probation Service monitors 195 sex offenders in the community as part of the Sex Offender Risk Assessment/Management (Soram) initiative which involves officials from the Garda, Tusla and local authorities.

Major risk factors

The initiative aims to manage an offender’s risk level which includes ensuring that they have a stable home. Placing an offender in unstable accommodation is a major risk factor for reoffending, the conference heard.

Figures presented at the conference show there are 63 convicted offenders living in the community in the Republic who are not monitored.

To be monitored by Soram, offenders must be judged as being at a “medium” or higher risk of committing another sexual offence and they must have been sentenced to probation supervision by the court.

One speaker told the conference that in the case of child abusers, many housing options are closed off to them because they are too near areas where children gather.

“Something like a child sex offender being near a school, something along those lines would be a problem,” said Brian Dack, assistant director of the Probation Service. “They could be more subtle than that but that would be the obvious one.”

Mr Dack told The Irish Times that public concerns about living near a sex offender also pose challenges.

“The local authorities are always conscious of the public reaction to the housing of [a sex offender] within their community. There’s a need for information campaigns to get across the message that when we know where someone is, they’re safer,” he said.

He said that some offenders chose to sleep rough because they do not feel safe in emergency shelters, making it even harder to monitor them.

“Unfortunately we have some people who come out of prison where the only thing available to them is emergency accommodation in a shelter run by one of the NGOs. It’s an unsafe environment or they would feel it to be an unsafe environment and would fear that they were going to be attacked.”

Mr Dack added: “People need to understand that shoving them into a homeless-type environment creates less safe communities rather than more safe communities.”