99% success rate of protection measures in Carrickfergus

ONE person in Carrickfergus is is subject to public protection arrangements for sexual or violent offenders.

The individual is not in the highest risk category, councillors were told this week, but the agencies involved in the protection process believe there is “clear and identifiable evidence” that he or she “could cause serious harm” if left unmanaged.

Members also heard that arrangements for working with such offenders are very effective, with less than one per cent of those released into the community commiting another sexual or violent offence.

A presentation on the public protection arrangements was delivered at Monday’s meeting of the Borough’s Chief Executive’s Office.

Spokesman Nick Carson told the meeting that a total of 167 people in Northern Ireland have been assessed as falling within the same risk category as the individual in Carrickfergus; 67 of them are in prison and 94 are in the community.

The higher risk category, of individuals presenting “compelling evidence” that they are “highly likely to cause serious harm” if left to their own devices, consists of 13 offenders, five of whom are currently in prison.

A further 896 people in Northern Ireland, 15 of whom live in Carrickfergus, have been risk assessed but were found to present “little evidence” that they would cause serious harm.

The first stage of the risk assessment process is carried out by a specialist police unit based at Seapark, on the edge of Carrickfergus. The unit’s initial recommendation is then passed to a Local Area Protection Panel, which confirms or alters the initial categorisation and draws up a public protection plan tailored to each individual.

LAPPs consist of representatives of the PSNI, Probation Board, Prison Service and Social Services, with other agencies playing a role if relevant to the particular case, including the NSPCC and Housing Executive.

Mr Carson said: “Risk assessment is not subjective, it does not involve me looking at an individual and saying I think he poses a risk. It is very scientific and the tools used are internationally validated and used in various countries.

“We cannot say these arrangements will eliminate risk – they won’t. They seek to reduce risk.”

A risk management plan will typicall consist of enforcement measures to deter undesirable behaviour alongside “encouragement measures,” which can include help with substance abuse problems, improving employability or finding stable accommodation.

Mr Carson explained: “We would be doing society no favours if we did not look at why the offender offended and try to change aspects of their lives that affect their behaviour.

We have very effective programmes for sex offenders and people who go through them are three times less likely to be reconvicted. They are challenging and searching and involve the individuals looking inside themselves and baring all in front of their peers.

We hope to have programmes soon for violent offenders.”

The programme drawn up for an individual will be periodically reviewed to take account of changes in their circumstances or behaviour.

Mr Carson argued that the public protection arrangements are effective, with only five offences committed or alleged to have been committed by people subject to a programme, and only one of those a sexual offence.

He added: “The system works. We have over 99% compliance with these arrangements by the offenders subject to them. Most of them understand the implications of not complying; there are a few notable examples of people who have not complied and people know what happened to them.”

However, Mr Carson cautioned: “Do not go away believing that that is all the individuals who pose a risk of commiting serious violent or sexual offences in Northern Ireland; those are only the people who have been convicted and risk assessed. Eight out of 10 sex offences do not get reported in the first place, so you can do the maths.”