CONVICTED sex offenders will be released early from prison if they undergo therapy under radical plans unveiled by the Government.
As part of the prison reforms offenders will be given “strong incentives”, such as supervised temporary release. But they must continue treatment in the community and may be tagged.
Rape crisis groups, sex offender treatment experts and penal reformers welcomed the measures but stressed resources must be in place.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the radical shift is part of a policy designed to rehabilitate sex offenders rather than simply let them serve out their time.
Other reforms include:
* A national centre at Arbour Hill Prison with a full range of interventions.
* A new Sex Offender Unit in the Prison Service.
* A narrower range of programmes at Wheatfield and Midlands prisons.
Launching the policy yesterday, Mr Ahern said: “For suitable prisoners in the latter stages of their sentence, the policy envisages that consideration will be given to transfers to open prisons and, possibly, periods of supervised early release.
“Such temporary release would be subject to strict conditions, including participation in appropriate community-based interventions and, potentially, electronic monitoring.”
He added: “These measures constitute strong incentives to participate in interventions but, equally important, they can play a vital role in helping offenders reintegrate in their communities after imprisonment. Decisions in individual cases will take full account of the concerns of victims where known.”
Mr Ahern said the group interventions hope to reach 60 prisoners in a full year.
The Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomed the reforms. “Incentives are useful, when combined with a demonstration of reduced risk by offenders,” said executive director Fiona Neary.
“Reliable risk offending is required pre-sentencing, during incarceration and is essential pre-release.”
Olive Travers of the National Organisation of the Treatment of Abusers said the moves brought Ireland into line with other countries. “Regarding temporary release, what people find difficult is giving offenders incentives to undergo treatment, but that reflects a lack of understanding of how difficult treatment is. The public want to increase public safety, but treatment increases public safety.”
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said: “What we do know is that untreated, dangerous sex offenders — which are a small minority of sex offenders as a group — if untreated, they will continue to present a risk. Treatment does work. Anything that encourages people to take up treatment must be welcome.”
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