NORTHUMBRIA’S Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird is pressing the Government to close a “loophole” which sees sex offenders walking free from court to serve their sentences in the community.
Vera Baird QC now has the support of one of the most senior judges in the country – The Rt Hon Lord Justice Gross – who shares her concerns.
Ms Baird says offenders guilty of crimes such as downloading or making images of child abuse are sometimes given non-custodial sentences as the only apparent route to get them into Sex Offender Treatment Programmes quickly.
Currently a custodial sentence of two years or more is required for those convicted of such crimes to undergo an accredited 39-week sex offender treatment programme in prison.
The Police and Crime Commissioner believes it is “inevitable” that prisons will prioritise the highest risk offenders for these programmes.
Mrs Baird said: “It’s an extremely unfortunate situation that judges are finding the public will be better-served if they sentence offenders, who should go to prison, to non-custodial sentences because the very sex offence courses that are so rare in prison are more readily available in the community.
“Not only does this mean that sex offenders are receiving over-lenient sentences, it also releases them into the community to start the course so, for a time, the public faces an undesirable and unnecessary risk before the offender completes their programme.
“I’m pleased Lord Justice Gross shares my concerns regarding the potential consequences for public protection and public confidence.”
She added: “He agrees the shortfall is a matter for Government but has pledged to keep it in mind for any future reforms of the judicial system.
“Clearly the current situation will not support these objectives and I will continue to press the Government for this obvious loophole to be closed speedily, with the introduction of more readily available sex offender courses in prison.”