December 3, 2021

Sex Abusers Reoffending: What Are The Risks?

This week on the podcast we discuss sex abusers reoffending and whether changes should be made to increase safety for the population.

This follows the news article that double killer and sex offender Colin Pitchfork, 61, has been recalled to prison after only two months after his release. Pitchfork made headline when he was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1987 following the rape and strangling of two girls in Leicestershire.

Following his release in September 2021, routine checks by probation handlers flagged concerning behaviour and he also failed a polygraph lie detector test.

It is stated Pitchford was subject to strict monitoring and licence conditions such as tagging, exclusion zone and a ban on contact with children on his release.

Pitchfork had been reportedly approaching young girls when out and was recalled to prison. However, he could once again be released in as little as 28 days.

This raises important questions, regarding the success of prison reform, the release board consideration process, and safety to the population on release of unknown sex offenders.

Many high profile sex offenders are provided with new identities when they return to the outside world.

Statistics for the US found 5% of sex offenders reoffended within three years and 24% after 15 years.

A UK study in 2019 found proven reoffending rates were 24.8% for any reconviction and 12.6% for sexual reconvictions after a 13-year average follow-up. Rates increased greatly for offences relating to indecent images of children online.

A further study by Centre of Expertise on child sexual abuse found

  • Of sexual reoffending It is widely believed that adults convicted of CSA have an enduring high risk of sexual reoffending, but reoffending studies – although not CSA-specific – show that most individuals convicted of sexual offences are not reconvicted of further sexual offences. In England and Wales, for example, 7.5% of those released from prison between 2002 and 2012 had been convicted of another sexual offence by October 2015 (Mews et al, 2017). It should be noted, however, that most CSA does not come to the attention of the authorities. In that study, the reconviction rate for offences of any sort over the same period was considerably higher at 38% (Mews et al, 2017).
  • However, there is some evidence that, in comparison with those convicted of sexual offences against adults, individuals convicted of CSA offences are more likely subsequently to commit only sexual offences rather than other offences (e.g. Harris et al, 2009; Harris et al, 2011).
  • Long-term international studies suggest that most adult males convicted of sexual offences no longer have a significant risk of sexual reoffending after 10 years (having a similar risk to those with histories of other crimes), and only a small proportion remain at risk after 15 years (Hanson, 2018). This applies for all risk levels; even in the highest risk group, four-fifths of individuals in a 20-year study were never reconvicted for another sexual offence (Hanson et al, 2014).
  • Research evidence also indicates that women convicted of sexual offences reoffend at significantly lower rates than men (Cortoni et al, 2010), with an average sexual reoffending rate of around 3%, which may partly reflect that women are unlikely to be identified and reported. This suggests that distinct policies and procedures are needed to assess and manage the risks from women and from men.

The full report can be found here: Key messages from research on institutional child sexual abuse from research on institutional Key messages (csacentre.org.uk)

As discussed on many of our previous podcasts, sexual abuse is significantly unreported and therefore these statistics are likely to be higher.

In addition, monitoring of those on probation is dependent on the probation services monitoring individuals efficiently. There is no requirement to disclose to neighbours the offender’s previous offences.

In 2018 the BBC aired Second Chance Sex Offenders presented by Stacey Dooley which looked at the position in Florida, where convicted sex offenders were required to disclose a large sign outside their home to confirm they have been convicted. Other states required sex abusers to live in sperate communities.

In the UK the balance must be correct, with the risk of reoffending to protect the population and ensure safety, but if the sentence is spent that individual’s human rights to re-enter society, this is always going to be a difficult position.

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins at Alan.collins@hughjames.com or Danielle Vincent at  Danielle.vincent@hughjames.com.

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